Wash. Post's Ignatius cast Hagel as among earliest “national politician[s]” to criticize Iraq war, ignoring his support for 2002 war resolution

In his Washington Post column, David Ignatius asserted that if Sen. Chuck Hagel decides to run for president in 2008, “he can claim to have been right about Iraq and other key issues earlier than almost any national politician, Republican or Democratic.” However, Ignatius' claim is undermined by the fact that Hagel voted to authorize military action against Iraq in October 2002, which numerous Democrats vocally opposed at the time.

In his November 29 column, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius asserted that if Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) enters the 2008 presidential race “he can claim to have been right about Iraq and other key issues earlier than almost any national politician, Republican or Democratic.” Ignatius wrote that Hagel “had prescient misgivings about the Iraq war -- and, more important, the political courage to express these doubts clearly, at a time when many politicians were running for cover.” Ignatius went on to cite a speech Hagel gave in 2003 in which the senator “cautioned against a 'rush to war' ” (and, incidentally, in which Hagel quoted favorably from an Ignatius column). But Ignatius' claim that Hagel was “right about Iraq ... earlier than almost any national politician” from either party is undermined by two facts absent from his column: that Hagel voted for the October 2002 resolution authorizing military action against Iraq, and that numerous Democrats had the “political courage” to speak out against it during the congressional debate leading up to passage of the resolution.

From Ignatius' Washington Post column, headlined “Hagel's Moment?”:

What would make a Hagel candidacy interesting is that he can claim to have been right about Iraq and other key issues earlier than almost any national politician, Republican or Democratic. Though a Vietnam veteran and a hawk on many national security issues, he had prescient misgivings about the Iraq war -- and, more important, the political courage to express these doubts clearly, at a time when many politicians were running for cover.

Hagel warned about the dangers of invading Iraq in a Feb. 20, 2003, speech in Kansas. He noted that America stood “nearly alone” in advocating military force to disarm Iraq and cautioned against “a rush to war.” Some of Hagel's premonitions were almost eerie: “What comes after Saddam Hussein? The uncertainties of a post-Saddam, post-conflict Middle East should give us pause, encourage prudence and force us to recognize the necessity of coalitions in seeing it through.” He urged the Bush administration to transfer postwar oversight to the United Nations as soon as possible, and he admonished Iraq boosters to “put aside the mistaken delusion that democracy is just around the corner.”

While Hagel was certainly one of the first prominent Republican politicians to express concerns about the impending U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Ignatius' claim that he did so “earlier than almost any national politician” is undermined by the facts.

In making this claim, Ignatius made no mention of Hagel's vote on October 11, 2002, in favor of H.J.R. 114, which authorized President Bush to “use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to ... defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”

Ignatius also left out any mention of the 148 Democrats -- 126 in the House and 21 in the Senate -- who had voted against H.J.R. 114. Moreover, this group included numerous prominent Democratic members of Congress, many of whom, prior to the vote, had taken to the floors of their respective chambers to express their own “prescient misgivings” about the war plan, including:

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): “In addition to the cost in human lives, the cost to our economy and the cost to the war on terrorism, an attack on Iraq has a cost to our budget. This cost can be unlimited. There is no political solution on the ground in Iraq. Let us not be fooled by that. So when we go in the occupation, which is now being called the liberation, could be interminable and the amount of money it costs could be unlimited -- $100-$200 billion, we can only guess. ... These costs to the war on terrorism, the lost [sic] of life, the cost to our economy, the cost in dollars to our budget, these costs must be answered for. If we go in, we can certainly show our power to Saddam Hussein. If we resolve this issue diplomatically, we can show our strength as a great country. Let us show our greatness. Vote no on this resolution.” [10/10/02]
  • Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI): “If we go it alone, will we be undercutting efforts to get other countries to help us with the expensive and lengthy task of stabilizing Iraq after Saddam is removed? Beyond the current situation relative to using force in Iraq, going it alone without U.N. authorization, based on a modified concept of preemption that no longer requires the threat to be imminent, will lead to a serious risk to international peace and security. If we act unilaterally, without U.N. authority or an imminent threat, that will create a dangerous situation for international peace and stability in the long term. We will be inviting other nations to forego an important rule of international law requiring a serious and imminent threat before one nation can attack another nation in the name of self-defense.” [10/09/02]
  • Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL): “Al-Qaida is still known to be in 60 nations around the world, and this war is far from over. Make no mistake, we cannot dedicate the resources, the manpower, the skills, and the weapons of war to a new war in Iraq without sacrifices in our war on terrorism. This will be a war on two fronts; sacrifices will be made. ... We should push forward with inspections through the United Nations, and build a coalition of support to make sure he is kept under control. The Presidential resolution, which envisions the United States standing alone, is not the best course. The Presidential resolution, which calls for a dramatic departure in our foreign policy, is not the best course.” [10/10/02]
  • Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI): “As mighty as we are, I wonder if we are not very close to being overextended. Invasion of Iraq in the next few weeks or months could, in fact, be very counterproductive. In fact, it could risk our national security. ... This could be very costly and time-consuming. It could involve the occupation -- the occupation -- of a Middle Eastern country. Now, this is not a small matter: the American occupation of a Middle Eastern country. Consider the regional implications of that scenario: the unrest in moderate states, the calls for action against American interests, the difficulty of bringing stability to Iraq so we can extricate ourselves in the midst of regional turmoil. We need much more information about how we propose to proceed so we can weigh the costs and benefits to our national security.” [10/09/02]

During the same period, several other “national” Democrats voiced their concerns regarding the White House's Iraq plan:

  • Former Vice President Al Gore: “I am deeply concerned that the course of action that we are presently embarking upon with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century. ... [W]e should focus first and foremost as our top priority on winning the war against terrorism. Nevertheless, President Bush is telling us that America's most urgent requirement of the moment -- right now -- is not to redouble our efforts against Al Qaeda, not to stabilize the nation of Afghanistan after driving its host government from power, even as Al Qaeda members slip back across the border to set up in Afghanistan again; rather, he is telling us that our most urgent task right now is to shift our focus and concentrate on immediately launching a new war against Saddam Hussein. ... If we quickly succeed in a war against the weakened and depleted fourth-rate military of Iraq and then quickly abandon that nation, as President Bush has quickly abandoned almost all of Afghanistan after quickly defeating a fifth-rate military power there, then the resulting chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam.” [Speech, 9/23/02]
  • Democratic National Committee chairman and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean: “It's conceivable we would have to act unilaterally, but that should not be our first option. ... The greater fear that I have is that the president has never said what the truth is: that if we go into Iraq, we will be there for 10 years.” [Des Moines Register, 10/6/02]