A Tale of Two Republican Senators
By By Tray Smith
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way."
– Charles Dickens,
"A Tale of Two Cities"
With that paragraph, Dickens began his tale of two cities; a fictional novel comparing the non-fictional state of affairs in revolutionary Paris and orderly London during the late 18th century. But today, Dickens words are equally capable of describing the great contrast between the views of Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska on the Iraq War.
McCain and Hagel have a lot in common. They are both veterans of the Vietnam War. McCain is an announced Presidential candidate, Hagel is considering a White House run. But the two Republican Senators have a very, very different view of Iraq.
John McCain is not only a supporter, but one of the architects of, the 'surge' strategy that President Bush has put in place in Iraq. McCain's only criticisms of this administration's war management came before President Bush began to increase troop levels in January, a strategy McCain has been supporting for years as a way to pacify insurgent riddled Iraq. And even though President Bush began his surge at the same time McCain was beginning his Presidential Campaign, McCain has stubbornly denied political expedience and stood by his position and our unpopular President. While his hawkish pro-surge stance may help him solidify conservative support in the GOP primaries, it is unlikely to help him in the general election where he will face a war weary electorate anxious to bring troops home.
After returning recently from his fifth visit to Iraq, McCain gave a speech to the Virginia Military Institute in which he articulated a better defense of the Iraq war effort than President Bush has done in years. He said that we are making 'measurable progress in establishing security in Baghdad and fighting al Qaeda in Anbar province.' He then cited his experience of riding downtown, instead of flying by helicopter, and visiting a local market as being indicative of progress. With respect to the arbitrary deadlines that recently passed Congress, McCain said, 'Before I left for Iraq, I watched with regret as the House of Representatives voted to deny our troops the support necessary to carry out their new mission. Democratic leaders smiled and cheered as the last votes were counted. What were they celebrating? Defeat? Surrender? In Iraq, only our enemies were cheering.' From a Senator not afraid to buck his party on issues such as campaign finance reform and global warming and always happy to work with his colleagues from the other side of the political isle, such rhetoric, on such an unpopular subject, is to say the least surprising. But it goes a long way towards describing McCain's dedication to the war effort.
Chuck Hagel, on the other hand, has supported President Bush on almost everything. But not Iraq. He returned from a recent trip to Iraq to tell columnist Bob Novak that Iraq is 'coming undone and Prime Minister Maliki's government is becoming weaker by the day.' He derided the administration for not having a broader Middle East policy. He voted with the Democrats on the recent Iraq funding bill, which put binding troop withdrawal dates in place. Hagel also told Novak that he disputes those who say that withdrawing American troops will lead Iraq to chaos because chaos is what is happening in Iraq right now, and he said he believes only 10 percent of the violence going on in Iraq has been incited by the terrorists. The rest, he says, is sectarian violence that we have no place in.
Hagel has built the Nebraska Republican Party and he is one of the most popular politicians in that state. But should he decide to run for re-election to his Senate post in '08 he will likely face a conservative primary opponent. Should Hagel decide to run for President, he will likely face widespread voter anxiety over his adamant opposition to the President's war plan. These political ramifications have not caused Hagel to shy away from his push for a new direction in Iraq,
Hagel and McCain are on opposite sides of the fence. Yet, both of them could face drastic political ramifications for their positions. Their courage in the face of public and party opinion is admirable. Only history will tell us who is right. That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.