Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska gave a CCAS-sponsored speech September 22, 2008 in Riggs Library entitled “America: Our Next Chapter.” The title, reminiscent of his book published earlier this year, America: Our Next Chapter: Tough Questions, Straight Answers (Ecco 2008), promised a frank discussion about American policy.
Scott Fleming, Associate Vice President for Federal Relations at Georgetown, and Dr. Michael Hudson, Director of CCAS, introduced Senator Hagel. Dr. Hudson provided an outline of some of the issues currently troubling the Middle East, noting that with the United States’ present economic slump, they are less likely to get the attention they deserve from Washington.
Senator Hagel first noted that the challenges presented by Dr. Hudson are global in scope. “We are all affected by what happens in the Middle East,” he said, “and we are all now citizens of a global community underpinned by a global economy.” The reorientation in world affairs, he continued, is unlike anything we’ve seen since World War II—and is likely deeper than what leaders confronted following that war.
What’s needed, according to the Senator, is to follow in the footsteps of those world leaders of the 1940s who built coalitions based on common interests after the war ended. He quoted Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as recently saying that the United States “cannot reside only based on the principle of [its] military might or using [its] military strength to try and resolve problems.” As such, “America must engage the world in such a way that we don’t back ourselves into a cul-de-sac of isolation,” said Hagel.
In terms of the Middle East, which the Senator called “more combustible, more dangerous, and more complicated than it has ever been,” this means engaging with Iran and Syria and recognizing Iraq’s desire for the departure of American troops. “The fact is if Iraq is a sovereign nation,” he said, “and if that’s what we’ve been fighting for and spending $10-12 billion dollars a month for, it seems to me we’re going to have to honor the decision of that country.” He also noted that the United States cannot sustain the kind of expenditures and manpower of which it has dedicated seven years in Afghanistan and six years in Iraq.
The next president, Hagel said, inherits the greatest inventory of problems since Franklin Roosevelt, but he also inherits a tremendous opportunity: “[He has the] opportunity to lead the world—not dictate to the world, not impose on the world, not invade the world—but lead the world…If the next president reaches to Congress and makes Congress a partner, if he reaches to the world and makes the world a partner on common interests…we can accomplish an awful lot. I believe that’s possible.”
A lively question and answer session followed, with topics ranging from Senator Hagel’s unique position in the Republican party to the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.