Hagel: Iraq growing more like Vietnam
Republican Senator says Bush should meet with protesting mom
Sen. Chuck Hagel said the United States should not set a timetable for troop withdrawal.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska on Thursday said the United States is "getting more and more bogged down" in Iraq and stood by his comments that the White House is disconnected from reality and losing the war.
The longer U.S. forces remain in Iraq, he said, the more it begins to resemble the Vietnam war.
Hagel mocked Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion in June that the insurgency in Iraq was in its "last throes," saying the U.S. death toll has risen amid insurgent attacks.
"Maybe the vice president can explain the increase in casualties we're taking," the Nebraskan told CNN.
"If that's winning, then he's got a different definition of winning than I do."
On Thursday, Cheney told a veterans group that "Iraq is a critical front in the war on terror, and victory there is critical to the future security of the U.S."
"Every man and woman who fights and sacrifices in this war is serving a just and noble cause," Cheney told the 73rd National Convention of the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Springfield, Missouri.
Hagel, an Army infantry squad leader during the Vietnam war, sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and supported the October 2002 resolution authorizing military action against Iraq.
But he said the United States risks losing more public support for the conflict amid a rising cost in blood and money.
"The casualties we're taking, the billion dollars a week we're putting in there, the kind of commitment we've got -- we're not going to be able to sustain it," he said.
Iraq and Vietnam still have more differences than similarities, he said, but "there is a parallel emerging."
"The longer we stay in Iraq, the more similarities will start to develop, meaning essentially that we are getting more and more bogged down, taking more and more casualties, more and more heated dissension and debate in the United States," Hagel said.
Hagel also did not back away from comments he made in June to U.S. News & World Report that "the White House is completely disconnected from reality" and "the reality is that we're losing in Iraq."
"It gives me no great pleasure to have said that and to say that now," he said Thursday.
He said the U.S. death toll has continued to rise "at a very significant rate -- more dead, more wounded, less electricity in Iraq, less oil being pumped in Iraq, more insurgent attacks, more insurgents coming across the border, more corruption in the government."
A total of 1,861 American troops have died in the war since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, including four who were killed Thursday by a roadside bomb in Samarra. (Full story)
Cheney said in June that the insurgency is "in the last throes," and he predicted that the fighting will end before the Bush administration leaves office. (Full story)
In the CNN interview Thursday, Hagel mentioned Cheney's comments about the insurgency and quickly added, "The facts speak for themselves."
Hagel did say he agrees with President Bush that the United States should not set a timetable for troop withdrawal, but he also predicted the United States would begin "withdrawing troops from Iraq next year."
"I don't like time frames because it gives the president no flexibility, and I think you always must have flexibility in these things and a judgment call by the president," he said.
Ultimately, he said, it's up to the Iraqis to control their nation's fate.
"That means they are either going to have to be in a position sometime next year to really step up in governing themselves, defending themselves, supporting themselves, or we can't continue to stay there indefinitely," Hagel said.
The next six months will be "very critical" in Iraq, he said.
"Not just the constitution writing, referendum, the election -- but also within that six months' period we're going to see whether the Iraqis are really going to be capable of defending themselves," he said.
On another Iraq-related issue, Hagel said Bush made the wrong decision by not meeting again with Cindy Sheehan, a mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq who has camped outside the president's Texas ranch. (Full story)
Sheehan "deserves some consideration, and I think that should have been done right from the beginning," Hagel said, noting that Bush did meet with her shortly after her son's death last year.
"I think the wise course of action, the compassionate course of action, the better course of action would have been to immediately invite her in to the ranch. It should have been done when this whole thing started. Listen to her."
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