Hagel's candor: The former senator calls for a new realism overseas
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Chuck Hagel, a former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska, was in Pittsburgh last week as a guest of the World Affairs Council, providing keen observations on what he sees as a new world order in foreign affairs.
Mr. Hagel is a professor at Georgetown University and the University of Nebraska, chairman of the Atlantic Council and a member of advisory boards at the Departments of Defense and Energy, thus remaining very much in the American policy debate.
Part of his message in Pittsburgh was a statement of hopeful realism in U.S. foreign relations. He observed that the United States is no longer dominant in the world and asserted that its primary focus should be economic, rather than military or political. He said, "Budgets drive policy," and that should be the core reality of U.S. international relations. He said America should now focus its attention on countries such as Egypt and Turkey as critical future partners, including accepting and following up on the new Egypt's admonition to America to talk to Iran.
Asked what today's Republican Party brings to the national dialogue on foreign affairs, his answer was, basically, nothing. There is no Republican foreign policy as such and no leader of the party at this time. Perhaps a leader and a policy will emerge as the electoral campaign proceeds.
Mr. Hagel's comments carry particular credibility. After having won elections with big margins in 1996 and 2002, he left the Senate in 2009 to respect a pledge to serve only two terms. His candor was underscored by his startling observation that, "In American politics you are penalized if you think."
Americans have much to learn from Mr. Hagel and, at 64, he can still be of use. For one thing, he could be the successor to former Sen. George J. Mitchell Jr. as the president's envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
First Published May 23, 2011 12:00 am