How Can Chuck Hagel Have "Opposed" the Iraq War When He Voted For It?

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 7 2013 4:47 PM

How Can Chuck Hagel Have "Opposed" the Iraq War When He Voted For It?

The smartest critique of my colleague Fred Kaplan's column today has been a nit-pick. Kaplan wrote that Chuck Hagel "opposed the Iraq War." But sharp-eyed readers -- anyone who's awake, really -- know that Hagel voted for S.R. 46 in 2002, and thereby gave the Bush administration the authority to go to war. If you want to say that Hillary Clinton supported the war, then so did Chuck Hagel.

Hagel's argument would be that he supported the war with reservations. The initial war resolution, S.R. 45, authorized military action without any reference to international support. The compromise resolution -- a compromise led by nervous pro-war Democrats -- predicated any military action on U.N. resolutions against Iraq. It was a distinction with only a small difference, but Hagel's pre-war denunciations referred to the first bill, not the second. "It might have been better for our vote to have been delayed until after the elections," said Hagel, "as it was in 1990." (Hagel wasn't in the Senate in 1990, and he was on the ballot in 2002, but he had no credible opponent.) When he spoke in favor of the compromise, he caveat-ed it all to hell with worries.

Advertisement

"Some of my colleagues and some American analysts now speak authoritatively of Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds in Iraq, and how Iraq can be a test case for democracy in the Arab world," he said. "How many of us really know and understand Iraq, its country, history, people, and role in the Arab world? I approach the issue of a post-Saddam Iraq and the future of democracy and stability in the Middle East with more caution, realism, and humility." The war would drag on, he said, "we must understand that we have not put Iraq behind us. This is just the beginning."

The vote was a cop-out, but the speech was cautious. Hagel didn't sound anything like the pro-war diehards. To pick an example at random: Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, who explained his vote for war via an extended fable about killing snakes.

You know, when I discovered these Copperheads, I didn't call my wife Shirley for advice, like I do on most things. I didn't go before the city council. I didn't yell for help from my neighbors. I just took a hoe and knocked them in the head and killed them. Dead as a doorknob. I guess you could call it a unilateral action. Or preemptive. Perhaps if you had been watching me you could have even called it bellicose and reactive.

So, yeah, Hagel was more moderate than that. It remains strange that the people who voted for the war and against the surge -- Hagel, Clinton, Kerry, Biden -- rose the highest in government.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.