The American people are weary of war and aren't up for
another military adventure in either Syria or Iran, former Nebraska senator and
potential defense secretary Chuck Hagel
told The Cable.
Hagel sat down for a 90-minute exclusive
interview in his Georgetown office in May, well before President Barack Obama began
vetting him for a top national security position in his second-term
cabinet, perhaps to replace Leon Panetta
at the Pentagon.
In previously unreleased portions of that interview, Hagel
commented on how the United States should move forward in Syria and Iran,
urging caution, patience, and a focus on multilateral diplomacy.
"I think we've got to be very wise and careful on this and
continue to work with the multilateral institutions in the lead in Syria. I
don't think America wants to be in the lead on this," he said. "What you have
to do is manage the problem. You manage it to a higher ground of possible
solutions, ultimately to try to get to a resolution. You don't have control
over what's going on in Syria."
"You've got to be patient, smart, wise, manage the problem,"
The Obama administration has resisted intervention in Syria
based on the risk that arming the opposition directly could fuel the fire and out
of concern that establishing a no-fly zone would require a major U.S. commitment
with uncertain results.
Hagel said he agreed with that policy, and urged caution and
patience when dealing with the Syrian crisis -- though it's worth reiterating
that these remarks were made in May.
"I don't think I'd do anything different from what the Obama
administration is doing. I think they are handling this responsibly and working
with everybody. It's frustrating; it's maddening. I get all that. But we're
still in the longest war in American history and our standing in that part of
the world is not that good," he said.
Hagel believes that the world is moving toward more diffused
power structure where the United States no longer remains the single
unchallenged superpower. That, combined with America's internal problems and the
desire for Americans to end over a decade of war, points to the need for a
diplomatic solution in Syria, he said.
"We've got to understand great-power limitations. There are
so many uncontrollable variables at play in Syria and the Middle East," Hagel
said. "You work through the multilateral institutions that are available, the U.N.,
the Arab league. The last thing you want is an American-led or Western-led
invasion into Syria."
On Iran, Hagel said that polls available at the time showed
that the vast majority of both Americans and Israelis didn't think it wise for
Israel to attack Iran in the near term. There's plenty more time to seek a
diplomatic solution, he said.
"The two options -- attack Iran or live with a nuclear-armed
Iran -- may be eventually where we are. But I believe most people in both
Israel and the United States think there's a ways to go before we get to
those," Hagel said. "I think Obama is handling this exactly the right way. I can
understand differences between Obama and the Israeli prime minister, but we
have differences with all our allies."
Hagel rejected the notion that Obama has put distance
between the United States and Israel or mistreated Israel in any way.
"That's complete nonsense. Anything who knows anything about
this knows it's nonsense," he said.
Hagel expressed frustration with the ideological bent in the
Republican Party, especially its far-right factions, and said that the GOP of
old had the right idea about how to handle national security. He is also still
upset about the Republican handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"You've got a Republican Party that is having difficulty
facing up to the fact that when you look at what happened the first eight years
of the 21st century, that was under Republican direction. You had a
conservative Republican president get us into two wars without paying for
either of them," he said. "We financed the wars off budget. So the Republican Party
is dealing with a schizophrenia that it was the Republican Party leadership
that got us into this mess."
Hagel thinks foreign policy should be determined by the U.S.
"I don't think you can lead by ideology. Ideology gets a
nation into a lot of trouble... There's a streak of intolerance in the Republican
Party today, and that scares people. Intolerance is a very dangerous thing in a
society because it always leads to a tragic ending," he said. "Now the
Republican Party is in the hands of the extreme right, more than ever before."
America must do more to shape a "new world order" that account
for the rise of new world powers by actively engaging in the reform and
promotion of multilateral organizations and structures, he said.
"That doesn't mean we acquiesce to anyone us or give up to
anyone else, but we've got to adjust to the realities of these emerging power,"
he said. "We should be embracing this and actively leading the change because
it's in our interest, just like Truman and Eisenhower did. And we're missing
that part of it. We can't do anything on our own."
American decline is not inevitable, but the
power to ensure or prevent that decline is in Americans' hands, according to
Hagel: "This nutty talk about America being on the back side of history, that
isn't going to be because of China or Brazil or India. If that occurs, that's
because we let it happen. That's on us."