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The Novak Zone: Interview With Chuck Hagel

Aired March 15, 2003 - 09:30   ET


ARTHEL NEVILLE, CNN ANCHOR: The waiting, the wondering, as we showed you just a few minutes ago, that is the psychology facing U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf region, who may get orders soon to invade Iraq. Senator Chuck Hagel knows all too well what it's like to wait for war. He talks about that and more in "The Novak Zone."

ROBERT NOVAK, HOST: Welcome to "The Novak Zone."

I'm Robert Novak on Capitol Hill in the rotunda of the Richard B. Russell Senate Office Building. Our guest is the senior senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel, the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Hagel, you sometimes refer to yourself as the old sergeant. You're one of the very, very few elected members of Congress who was an enlisted man in combat in the Vietnam War. Does that give you a different outlook on this coming war in the Gulf, compared to your colleagues, who have never heard the sounds of battle or smelled the cordite?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Bob, as you know, we're all products of our own experience based of our own backgrounds. And there is no question that the experience of combat, serving with men and women who never came back, experiencing firsthand the horrors of war, affect my outlook, can't help but affect my outlook, and you can't decouple that experience. I hope it does not paralyze me.

NOVAK: Does it make you more cautious?

HAGEL: It makes me more cautious. It makes me more judicious in how we use American power, understanding how important it is to have allies and to have friends that will be with us through the long term. The clarity of purpose of our objective is important. The American people, the Congress with you.

But all too often, I think, in the great debates over war, it is always a matter of an intellectual debate or a policy debate, with very little focus being on the humanitarian or the human dynamic of people losing their lives.

NOVAK: Senator, as we talk, there are some 250,000 American troops waiting for the signal for the war to begin. Do you think that the long wait is going to take the edge off them, or is "Hurry up and wait" just something that all soldiers have learned to accept?

HAGEL: Well, there's no question that the longer you hold men and women at a high state of readiness with a sharp edge to maintain, it is more and more difficult. However, the discipline and the training that our soldiers have been given is, I think, conducive to these periods of indecision, of waiting.

But you can't do it indefinitely. You can't do it forever. So I think the short answer is, yes, you do have a time frame there, or, to your point, a zone, where you have to factor the readiness component in. But I don't think that is an issue here. I don't think we're going to have this situation play out for months and months before something happens.

NOVAK: Congressman Charlie Rangel, a Democrat of New York, who, like you, was an enlisted man in combat, he was in the Korean War, has called for a draft to replace the all-volunteer force. Do you think that that is necessary to avoid warfare from becoming a spectator sport for Americans, where we all watch it on CNN?

HAGEL: I agree with Charlie Rangel's point, his concern, that we have disconnected, most of American society, from our military, because of the all-voluntary service. I don't think reinstituting a draft is the way to resolve that. There are probably better ways, other ways to do that.

The world is so different today. The military training, the sophistication of our weapons, the long-term investment in what we do and the soldiers and those we train, I don't think works today for that. I think the Reserve National Guard component was really intended to offset some of the downside of a draft when we moved, as you recall, in the early '70s, to an all-voluntary army.

So I would not favor going back to a draft.

NOVAK: Senator, you travel around the country a lot. What is the public mood on the eve of war? Is it apprehensive? It is confident? Is it jubilant?

HAGEL: I don't see much jubilation around the country. People are anxious. They're concerned. They're on edge. We have been since September 11, 2001. That experience was seared into the consciousness of every American.

Our economy is not doing well. There's not a lot of good news on any front. And the dark clouds of war hang over this country, the consequences of that are there.

And Americans are concerned. And I think because they're Americans, we have a spirit. De Tocqueville wrote about it in the 1830s, about, Let's go fix it. Let's get it done. That's one of the great assets and strengths of this country.

But at the same time, we need to keep some balance and proportion in how we do that, that we don't rush into something that we maybe cannot finish, or get into something we don't quite understand. So there's no joy or no overextended sense of confidence. There is a very definite and, I think, responsible sense of concern.

NOVAK: And now, the big question for Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

Senator Hagel, in a recent speech at the University of Notre Dame, you called on the United States, as the only superpower, to exercise some humility. What did you mean by that?

HAGEL: Well, great powers are always resented. That's inherent in being a great power. But if we are to sustain the security for our next generation, and the stability for our future in markets and relationships, that means that we're going to have to reach out to the people of the world. We're going to have to put some emphasis on how the rest of the world sees us, not just how we see the rest of the world, take it or leave it.

We are unchallenged in every way. And that humility that -- by the way, President Bush talked about when he was a candidate for president, he used the term "humility" and "humble foreign policy" in 2000 -- is essential, in my opinion, to winning a war on terrorism, because it's going to be the enhancement of our relationships, working with our friends and our allies and our partners that will do that.

And that's what I meant. Also, great powers are always seduced by an arrogance that we always have to be careful of. And if we are humble and respect other people in other nations, then we'll do just fine.

NOVAK: Thank you, Senator Chuck Hagel.

And thank you for being in "The Novak Zone."



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