A Hagel-icious soufflé takes time to prepare

Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican whom I have said I would work to elect should he choose to run for President, has postponed his decision on his political future until later this year, or - as he joked in closing - "before St. Patrick's Day next year."

Describing the Iraq War as "most divisive and difficult issue since Vietnam", he also offered the following from his prepared remarks:
"Burdened by two wars, faced with dangerous new threats and global uncertainty, beset by serious long-term domestic problems and divided by raw political partisanship — America now reaches for a national consensus of purpose...

I believe the political currents in America are more unpredictable today than at any time in modern history. We are experiencing a political re-orientation, a redefining and moving toward a new political center of gravity. This movement is bigger than both parties. The need to solve problems and meet challenges is overtaking the ideological debates of the last three decades."
In the question-answer portion, Hagel made the following remarks (quotes may not be exact):
"I am not an anti-war candidate - I have never been anti-war...to consider me an anti-war candidate is just not correct."
To clarify, he suggested that a nation's national security is not just the strength of its military, but also includes economic as well as social factors. He further mentioned that Reagan's withdrawal of US Marines from Beirut and Eisenhower's reluctance to militarily escalate in South-East Asia did not classify them as "anti-war" Presidents. Although, the disdain for the current Administration's policies was clear when he talked about "wise, smart use of military power".

Anyone dreaming of a blockbuster Unity Ticket (Hagel teaming up with former Republican and Reagan Administration official Jim Webb, the newly-elected Virginia Senator, for example) had their hopes quashed. Hagel made sure to accentuate his affiliation with the Republican Party. Very pleased to hear that.
"Well, I think I've made it pretty clear, and I think my record is rather clear - I am a Republican."
He talked about his first ballot, cast from Vietnam in 1968, in which he "didn't vote for Humphrey" and "probably" voted Republican down the line.
"I have based my entire political life on the party that I thought I shared most of my political philosophy, and that is the Republican Party...I have been disappointed in my party over the past few years...I don't see that same party today [referring to his description of the 1968 GOP] and I would like to continue to influence my party to get it back to where it was when I first joined."
He also spoke about the unprecedented attention to the Presidential race and the early onset of primary fever:
"I do fear we are doing damage to our system...we are captive to ideologies and I believe that will change - the American people will demand it."
On that note, what are the strategic implications of Hagel's decision to postpone? Well, on the whole it's a a smart move, because of the intense competition in the Republican field right now. Hagel, whose foreign policy views differ substantially from the rest of the announced candidates (with the exception of Ron Paul, who is a hero in his own right), would have gotten lost in the sauce.

His moment of opportunity may present itself if Iraq continues to deteriorate to the degree that even the mainstream of the GOP base looks at him as a sage for his ongoing criticism of the "stay the course" approach that McCain, Giuliani et al will sink defending. Meanwhile, a steady stream of favorable mainstream press coverage will likely continue, as Hagel's delay will only serve to whet the appetites of the press, which makes pets out of Hagelicious mavericks (like the McCain of yore).

Of course, Hagel's decision to delay is nonetheless a big gamble, because while all the rest of the candidates, including the other 2nd tier contenders, go about the business of building organizations, Hagel's non-committal to the race precludes him from doing that. For example, an activist like me, who would be more than delighted to criss-cross New Jersey speaking as a surrogate for Hagel at every GOP event I could get to, has little choice but to sit on his hands and wait, while other candidates continue to devour the attention of potential primary voters.


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