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Sen. Chuck Hagel: Saddam scenario is complex

Sen. Chuck Hagel
Sen. Chuck Hagel  

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday heard the benefits and risks of removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, a key member of the committee, spoke to CNN's Wolf Blitzer about what the panel was told.

BLITZER: There was a consensus Saddam Hussein is a very bad guy, but no consensus yet, Senator -- correct me if I'm wrong -- on what to do about him.

HAGEL: No, that's exactly right, Wolf. This is a complicated scenario. First, we do have an individual here who all of us believe cannot be rehabilitated. We're going to have to deal with him. But then it becomes a little more difficult. We heard testimony today -- and we are still receiving testimony from some of the best minds, most experienced minds in this business -- on the risks, the challenges, the consequences, unintended consequences, all the options that we have available. And that was the intent, of course, and is the intent of these hearings.

BLITZER: The chairman, Senator Joe Biden, says he wants a national dialogue, a debate before the president launches any military activity. Is this a good idea? I get a lot of email from viewers saying, "Why are you advertising so much of the U.S. intention and giving the Iraqis that potential advantage?"

HAGEL: Oh, I suspect Saddam has had some understanding for many years that he's on our radar scope. But here's the bigger issue, Wolf, and it's the answer to your question. America needs to be informed and educated on what the threats are here, what the risks are, what the costs would be, what's involved here. We need to be, as the people's representatives, better educated on this.

You know, I have occasionally reminded some of my colleagues -- we didn't have this debate, this dialogue before Vietnam. I understand -- we all do -- this is not Vietnam, but there are some similarities here. We'd better understand what we're getting into before we get there.

BLITZER: You heard Richard Butler testify that the Iraqis may be on the verge of developing a very crude nuclear capability. If they were to do so in the coming weeks or months, that would clearly change the geo-strategic equation out there if the Iraqis had that proven nuclear capability.

HAGEL: The problem with that is, of course, Wolf, we don't have good intelligence. We don't know exactly what he has, what he does not have. We think we understand his motives rather well. We think there is rather clear evidence that he is moving to that. How far along he is, we don't know. So always, it's a timing issue. It's when, how, if, the coalitions that go with you. And that's what we're working our way through, and ultimately, we're going to be working with the administration on.

BLITZER: As you know, Senator Hagel, a lot of people are saying, "Why bother to launch a full-scale invasion? Why not simply try to assassinate the Iraqi leader?" That proposal's on the table, and you know it as well as I do.

HAGEL: Well, it is. No one talked about that openly today, nor would they or should they. But there's another thread throughout this that we heard a lot today, Wolf, and that is how the Iraqi situation is tied to the Middle East, the Palestinian-Israeli problem, tied to the Afghani problem. General Hoare (ph) made that comment very clearly. He's the former Central Command four-star Marine general who had that area in his portfolio in the '90s. And so this complicates all the other areas that we are involved in, and that's a part of this that many people don't recognize. And we need to make sure the American people understand that, that this is part of a bigger picture.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, thanks for joining us. You speak with good perspective, given your Vietnam experience and all the experience you've had over the years since then. Appreciate your joining us.

HAGEL: Thanks, Wolf.




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