Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

Hagel Speech on Iraq/Middle East

Location: Washington, DC

Hagel Speech on Iraq/Middle East

Below is the text of a speech entitled "A 21st Century Frame of Reference" United States Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) gave today at Johns Hopkins University's Paul Nitze School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS):

"Thank you Jessica for that introduction and thank you to SAIS for inviting me to speak here today. SAIS and Johns Hopkins continue to make serious and important contributions to the debate and dialogue over today's most serious global challenges. Thank you for those contributions.

Too often in Washington, the most deadly serious issues become fodder for the 24-hour news cycle. Thoughtful discussion is welcome as long as you can compress it into a 10 second soundbite or scroll it at the bottom of a television screen. I want to take this opportunity to talk in a little more detail about some of the most urgent and dangerous challenges facing our country and the world.

In a 1953 speech delivered in Denver, Colorado, President Dwight Eisenhower presented a new nuclear frame of reference for the world. He knew if the world was to survive in a nuclear age it would require new thinking relevant to the world's new nuclear realities. Nuclear power was now part of mankind. Eisenhower laid out in the Denver speech his thoughts on how nuclear power could be used for something productive and positive to be shared by all peoples, rather than the atom being used for the most destructive purposes. Hence, the Atoms for Peace program was born. He also knew that an international regime of responsible control and conduct must be formed in order to address the advent of more nations becoming nuclear powers. Three years later, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was born. It was presented to the young United Nations (UN) by 12 countries- including the Soviet Union. Eisenhower and all who were associated with this effort were unsure of its future and what impact their vision and work might have on the world. Eventually, this vision helped to produce the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)...a treaty that has today been signed by 188 states. We know today- in spite of mistakes, problems and failures- that the UN, the NPT and IAEA have been of indispensable international importance.

We are today once again living through one of those historic transformational times that normally comes along in the world twice in a century. Just as Eisenhower and other American and world leaders knew after World War II, if the world was to not just survive but prosper with hope for all people, then a new international frame of reference would be required for understanding and addressing the world's problems. Fifty years after the formation of the IAEA and other multilateral institutions the world faces a glaring need for a requisite 21st Century frame of reference.

An interconnected global community of six and a half billion people supported by a global economy requires a clear understanding of the common challenges, threats and opportunities that face all mankind. This demands a wider lens and more integrated set of policies for the United States than ever before. The human condition will drive much of the instability and danger in this new century. Addressing despair, hunger, poverty, injustice will be a centerpiece for new global policy. When people are without dignity, not much else matters. Global challenges like the environment, pandemic health issues and energy will also factor into a new 21st Century policy paradigm. The more defined threats like proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and religious extremism will not be successfully met by just the use of America's unequaled military power. It will require enhanced and strengthened multi-lateral relationships and institutions, closer intelligence sharing with allies, expanded trade and effective exchange and education programs. All of the great challenges of the 21st Century will require American leadership that is trusted and respected in the world- not feared. Inspirational leadership, moral authority and confidence in America's noble purpose, not imposed power, will be essential if the world is to live together peacefully with hope for all mankind.

Our 21st Century frame of reference opens with the most urgent and dangerous of America's challenges- Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East. September 11, 2001 was the jarring gong that shocked America into the realization of a new world with new threats. But it began with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The most pressing challenge for America today is Iraq. The future of Iraq - its security, stability, prosperity...and its unity - will be decided by the Iraqi people. This reality must be the foundation for a new American policy in Iraq. We must now proceed with a different American policy in Iraq. Time is not on our side.

Last Sunday, the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, said that Iraq is, "an independent and a sovereign nation, and it is we who decide the fate of the nation." This sentiment has been echoed by all of Iraq's leading officials.

On Monday, the leader of Iraq's largest Shi'ite Muslim party, Ayatollah Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, delivered a speech at the United States Institute for Peace. In his remarks, Hakim, who spent years of exile in Iran, echoed President Talabani's comment when Hakim said, "Iraq shall be an extension of its own sovereignty and an extension of its Islamic and Arab identity."

Ayatollah Hakim, Prime Minister Maliki, President Talabani and all Iraqi officials understand that governance requires carrying heavy responsibilities. National leaders of sovereign nations cannot assert national sovereignty, and expect others to enforce that sovereignty. The United States military cannot be a surrogate force upon which Iraq can indefinitely depend. Our military presence in Iraq is not open ended. The substantial withdrawal of American forces must begin next year.

For almost four years, America has helped the Iraqi people build their own destiny. It has come at a high cost for America. As of today, over 2,900 Americans have given their lives in Iraq and over 22,000 Americans have been wounded. We have spent well over $300 billion in Iraq and we are still spending $8 billion a month. The Administration is expected to request another emergency supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan early next year for between $120 and $150 billion.

Today, the defining factor in Iraq is widespread and devastating sectarian violence. Al Qaeda terrorists do operate in Iraq and we must confront them. But such terrorists are not the primary threat in Iraq. Iraqis are killing Iraqis. This is sectarian violence.

Much of Iraq is embroiled in a civil war and 140,000 U.S. troops find themselves in the middle of this civil war. The United States must not take sides in this conflict. In recent days, Iraq's leaders, including President Talabani, Prime Minister Maliki and Ayatollah Hakim have publicly blamed Sunni terrorists and rogue militias for the surge in violence that continues to devastate Iraq. America runs the very real risk of being maneuvered into supporting the Shi'ite majority government against the Sunni minority. The United States is incapable of providing a solution to this civil war. To take sides in an Iraqi civil war would be to blunder into a trap of historic proportions. We would be defeating the core principle that we have advocated, helped build, and support- a unity government. There is only one way out of this entanglement for all parties...and that is a political settlement.

If the U.S. "tilts" to support the Shi'a in Iraq's ongoing violence, we would implicitly but undeniably align ourselves with Shi'ite interests that are backed by Iran. By choosing sides, the United States will compel the Sunni Arab world, which includes most of our friends and partners in the region - Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others - to protect Iraq's Sunnis.

With all due respect to Ayatollah Hakim, simply killing more "Baathists" will not achieve security in, or a future for, Iraq. But, a U.S. strategy to "choose sides" in order to bring order to Iraq could lead to direct regional involvement in the sectarian violence in Iraq and risk region-wide violence. This would be a generational catastrophe for the United States and the Middle East.

The sectarian violence in Iraq must also be considered within a broader regional context... a regional context that has a clear influence in Iraq. Much of Iraq's governing Shi'ite and Kurdish leadership, including Ayatollah Hakim, Prime Minister Maliki and President Talabani, maintain close ties with Iran. Many spent decades in exile in Iran. Iran has substantial influence over events in Iraq today.

There will be no military "victory" or military solution for Iraq. Henry Kissinger made this point two weeks ago. Furthermore, our ongoing deployment in Iraq is debilitating our military force structure. According to General John Abizaid, the Commander of the U.S. Central Command, except for U.S. Army forces stationed in South Korea, nearly all other Army units are currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, returning from a deployment, or preparing to deploy. The Army and the Marine Corps have sunk more than forty percent of their ground combat equipment into Iraq and Afghanistan. Army units that are training for Iraq are so short on equipment that they are forced to share a small number of unarmored Humvees while training. We face repair and maintenance costs of $17 to $19 billion dollars a year...for years to come...which we are not funding. We are decimating the most powerful fighting force the world has ever known...and we are only beginning to understand the astounding costs and time it will take to rebuild our force structure.

The Iraq Study Group put it very succinctly in their report to the President and Congress yesterday. They say:

"America's military capacity is stretched thin: we do not have the troops or equipment to make a substantial, sustained increase
in our troop presence. Increased deployments to Iraq would also necessarily hamper our ability to provide adequate resources
for our efforts in Afghanistan or respond to crises around the world."

There are few similarities between Vietnam and Iraq, but there are some. And one is the more troops inserted, the more bogged down the force becomes, resulting in more American casualties with no prospect of winning or even stabilizing a situation beyond our control.

The President has a narrow window of opportunity today to build a bipartisan consensus on Iraq. All of the 79 recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission must be carefully considered. Having forgotten the first element of the Powell Doctrine before we invaded Iraq, use of overwhelming force, we would do well to remember the last of Powell's principles: always have an exit strategy. The Baker-Hamilton report, a new Secretary of Defense, the American people's clear demand for a new direction in Iraq, and an anticipated bipartisan Congressional willingness to work together represents an opportunity for the President to build a responsible exit strategy out of Iraq.

Our focus needs to be on a political settlement within Iraq that encompasses all of Iraq's tribal, ethnic, religious and sectarian parties as well as its neighbors and the international community.

This week, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki announced that his government would convene a regional conference to strengthen regional support for the stability and security of Iraq. All of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, as well as other key regional and international states and organizations should be encouraged to actively and constructively participate. Two weeks ago Iraq and Syria reestablished formal diplomatic relations and Iraqi leaders have been holding meetings with Iranian leaders in Tehran. These are positive developments, and Maliki's efforts need to be strongly supported.

A regional conference would be an opportunity for the United States to engage Iran and Syria. I reject the notion that the United States should not engage Iran or Syria because neither country wants to help us "succeed" in Iraq. There are many agendas and interests in the Middle East and some are common interests.

Iran and Syria both pursue policies and support organizations that threaten U.S. interests. Our differences with these states - and others such as North Korea - are real and deep. However, by refusing to engage these states, we are perpetuating dangerous geo-political unpredictabilities. Our refusal to recognize Iran's influence does not decrease its influence, but rather increases it. Engagement creates dialogue and opportunities to identify common interests, as well as make clear disagreements. Diplomacy is not weakness- it can be...recall Munich in 1938- but rather diplomacy is an essential tool in world affairs using it where possible to ratchet down the pressure of conflict and increase the leverage of strength. This reality led to U.S.-Iran engagement on Afghanistan because there were common interests for both nations to cooperate after the Taliban had been driven out of Afghanistan. A regional conference establishes a regional context on Iraq, and is vital to support a political settlement inside of Iraq. The two are fundamentally linked.

I do not accept the assertion that if U.S. military forces withdraw, Iraq will become a terrorist haven for al Qaeda. I do not believe it is preordained. Could it happen- yes.

However, Iraq is not Afghanistan. Nor is it Somalia. Although Iraq is currently only producing a little more than 2 million barrels of oil a day, it has the world's second largest proven oil reserves. The Iraqi Shi'a do not want to lose control of their reserves in southern Iraq. The Kurds do not want to lose control of their region in northern Iraq. For their own interests, separate from those of the U.S., no neighbor of Iraq wants a lawless terrorist haven on its border. The humanitarian disaster that would occur is but one of many reasons why Iraq's neighbors would not want Iraq to disintegrate. It is in the shared interest of every country in the region that Iraq be stabilized. Does that mean a Jeffersonian Democracy, Islamic Republic or something in between? I don't know. The kind of government the Iraqis want will evolve.

A new strategy for Iraq must include timeframes. Timeframes are forcing mechanisms that prompt action and define consequences.

Prime Minister Maliki said last week that Iraqi forces will be "fully ready to receive next June." With his statement, he established a target and an objective...a timeframe.

The Baker-Hamilton Commission also laid out a timeframe yesterday. They called for a gradual pullback of the 15 American combat brigades now in Iraq, starting next year and being completed by the first quarter of 2008. This is a responsible timeframe for a phased American troop withdrawal from Iraq.

Another point raised in the Baker-Hamilton report that I believe requires caution is their recommendation that we "accelerate training of Iraq's military and police forces." This is not a new idea. In fact, we have already spent over $12 billion and invested 3 ½ years on the training of the Iraqi military and police. The Administration has continuously provided unrealistic reports of the success we were having training Iraqi forces. Of course, we must continue to help train the Iraqi military and police, but we must also see results from the training. We must be clear-eyed about the great difficulty Iraq is having in creating a national military whose sole loyalty is to the government of Iraq. At some point, the Iraqis must take full responsibility for training. We cannot make the training of Iraqi troops a prerequisite for our withdrawal from Iraq. We must also be cautious with the Baker-Hamilton Commission's recommendation that we embed substantially more U.S. soldiers with Iraqi troops. We must not put our troops in a position where they are dangerously exposed and unsupported in combat and caught in the middle of a civil war.

Just as our strategy on Iraq requires a regional context, America's occupation of Iraq has deep and wide implications for our position in the Middle East. This is another point that was made in the Baker-Hamilton Commission report. They spoke of the need to engage Syria and Iran and renew a focused commitment to a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In the Middle East, the core of instability and conflict is the underlying Arab-Israeli problem. Progress on Middle East peace does not ensure stability in Iraq. But, for the Arab world, the issue of Middle East peace is inextricably, emotionally and psychologically linked with all other issues. Until the United States helps lead a renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process, there will be no prospect for broader Middle East peace and stability. It is in America's vital interest that the President engage our Middle East and international partners to restart a Middle East peace process that will have the confidence of Arabs and Israelis. Processes are important and our lack of attention to this reality has crippled much of our efforts in the Middle East since 9/11.

The path that we are currently on in Iraq is severely damaging our standing, influence, and interests in the Middle East and in the world. We are increasingly perceived as a nation at war with Muslims. This perception is growing and will, if not reversed, complicate America's global credibility, purpose and leadership.

I believe America is coming dangerously close to isolating itself in the Muslim world. If we continue to lose our political capital with the Muslim world, we will lose our credibility, trust and ability to lead a renewed Middle East peace process and see a further erosion in East-West relations. We may be on a very precipitous course toward an East-West collision. A Judeo-Christian/Muslim split would inflame the world. In 2005, Gallup conducted a poll in ten Muslim countries -- Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Indonesia, Turkey, Morocco and Bangladesh -- to gauge Muslim views of the United States. Gallup's findings were sobering. Gallup found that a substantial majority of the people in eight of the ten countries do not believe that the United States is serious about improving their well being or that the United States is serious about establishing democratic systems in the Muslim world. The only exceptions were Bangladesh…where views were evenly split…and Morocco…where there remains some trust and confidence in the United States. Across all ten Muslim nations, an average of 60 percent viewed the United States unfavorably. In Saudi Arabia, our unfavorable rating was 79 percent…in Jordan, 62 percent…and in Pakistan, 65 percent. The lowest unfavorable rating was in Lebanon…it was 42 percent. I would expect that number has risen in the last year. We must not allow this fracture to occur, and it need not happen.

One of the ten Muslim countries that Gallup polled was Turkey. It is a critically important Muslim country and represents Muslim views of America and the West. It is located at the crossroads between Europe and the Middle East, a geostrategic link of commerce, energy, culture and history between East and West. This Muslim country has a secular democratic government and has been a strong ally of the West since World War II. Turkey, along with Greece, joined NATO in 1951, two years after NATO was created. A Gallup Poll conducted in October 2006 found that between 2001 and 2005, the percentage of Turks who view the United States as "very unfavorably" jumped from 14 percent to 42 percent. Sixty-two percent of Turks view the United States either "unfavorably" or "very unfavorably." If this trend continues with a new generation of Turks, it will have disastrous consequences for the Middle East, Europe and the United States. For more than five decades, Turkey has been one of America's indispensable allies. But we are witnessing a dangerous unwinding of a key relationship between the West and Turkey. We must not allow this to become a reality.

Sixty-five years ago today, America was propelled into World War II. Since that day, America has helped lead the world in monumental ways. Working with allies, multilateral institutions and through harnessing the creative and vital energies of a free and vibrant people, America has accomplished historic- even breathtaking- achievements for mankind. They have come because most of the time, we accurately- but not always perfectly- framed the challenges and opportunities in the world through a realistic, hopeful and visionary lens. We have at times failed...but we have learned from those failures...and they have almost always been failures of judgement, not intent. We must learn from the disastrous last four years in Iraq.

So we stand today at another defining time in history- facing complicated and new challenges and opportunities. They must be engaged with the same clarity of purpose and sense of reality that produced our post-World War II frame of reference. This will require a new American 21st Century frame of reference. History instructs; leadership inspires; but judgement prevails. Now is the moment for all three."

Skip to top
Back to top