ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos"
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And now we're joined by Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska who's also the author of a new book, "America, Our Next Chapter" will be in bookstores this week. Welcome back to "This Week," Senator.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE): Thank you, George.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's take a look at the book. One of the things you write about in the book is that this is a -- it's time for a shake-up in our political system in a watershed year. And you go on and say, "watershed political years such as 1994, 1980, 1968, 1932 and 1854, all had one thing in common -- the political party in power was thrown out because the people saw it as irrelevant and incapable of leading America. We are living at such a time." Are you saying that your party is irrelevant and incapable of leading America?
SEN. HAGEL: No. My point was, George, and is that in politics -- first, politics only reflect society, it reflects what's going on the in world and we respond -- politicians. The whole political environment responds and reacts to the reality of world events. And when a party or a leader or a philosophy about government becomes irrelevant in the eyes of the voter -- the citizen -- in that they are not fixing the problems, they are not addressing the problems --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's what happened to the Republican Party?
SEN. HAGEL: I think both parties, not just Republican Party. When you look are registered independents today, it is not the majority of registered voters, but the plurality. There are more registered independents today in America than Democrats or Republicans. Look at the polls on Congress. Our congressional approval ratings are lower. Those poll numbers are lower than the president's. They're at historic lows also for historic periods. The question last week for example in the Gallup, right way/wrong way -- is America going in the right direction or the wrong direction? Historically it's been low, but in the last few years 81 percent according to the Gallup last week said Americans believe America is going in the wrong direction.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's been a time when the Republican Party has had the White House for seven years.
SEN. HAGEL: So the Republican Party has to take some very significant responsibility. Sure. I'm not trying to skate around that, but the point is bigger than just the Republican Party. The Reagan coalition, the Nixon coalition; coalitions in politics are not meant to be forever. They respond to the dynamics of the moment, to the times, to the challenges in the world. We're living in a whole different kind of a world today than when Reagan was leading 25 years ago.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You also write that it might be a time when we need to create a new party. Are you serious about that?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, I think, George, I'm not calling for that. I didn't call for that. I didn't predict that, but what I am saying, when we are living through an historic reorientation of politics, which I do believe we are now, how much further do we have to look than look at the Democratic candidates for president. We're either going to have an African-American man or a woman -- both unprecedented. A hundred years ago, women in this country couldn't vote, George. Up until the mid '60s, an African-American had very little prospects for going very high in the political system. The Democratic Party will field one of those two people.
On the Republican side, we have a so called kind of Maverick by many definitions -- good friend of mine, dear friend of mine as a matter of fact. He would be the oldest person we would ever elected to the presidency. So when you talk about reorientation, I don't think you need to go much beyond just of field of candidates the American people are going to choose from as to who's going to lead this country.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure he'd welcome you pointing out that he would be the oldest candidate to be elected to the presidency.
SEN. HAGEL: Well, that's -- he doesn't run away from that. I mean, John's who he is and he focuses on that. I'm not doing that to try to in any way hurt him. I'm just saying John may -- John's situation is, I think, just again very indicative of where we are at politics today. When you have that one question -- right way/wrong way -- 81 percent of the American people think we're going in the wrong direction. And over the last two years, by the way, it's been in the 70s. And you're having people leave the Democratic and Republican Party in rather significant numbers, to the point where you got more registered independents, then there's a question, at least in my mind amongst other issues out there, whether the two parties are relevant to dealing with the challenges of governance that are facing this country.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator McCain is a good friend of yours. Why haven't you endorsed him?
SEN. HAGEL: Well I, first of all, haven't focused on presidential politics, haven't been involved in anything other than doing my job.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You're one of the few people in the political world who hasn't done it.
SEN. HAGEL: Well, I think endorsements -- at least when I endorse someone or when I work for someone or commit to someone, I want to be behind that person in every way that I can. I've obviously got some differences with John on the Iraq war. That's no secret. I want to understand a little more about foreign policy, where he would want to go. Certainly doesn't put me in Obama or Clinton's camp, but John and I have some pretty fundamental disagreements on the future of foreign policy.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's focus in on that, especially on Iraq. I would imagine Senator McCain says essentially we have to stay in the course, that we can only pull out from Iraq when the commanders say the situation has stabilized. Both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton have called -- have said that when they're president they'll start bringing out one to two brigades a month. Which one is closer to your position?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, I think we've got to look at the reality that we have before us. We're in a mess right now. We're not going to go back and unwind every bad decision we have made. We're in a sixth war -- sixth year of a war, we're in Afghanistan seven years. We are getting close to a $1-trillion mark in spending for both those wars. You know what the fatalities look like. We lost four Americans in Iraq yesterday. General Petraeus said last week that the commensurate political progress has not been made in Iraq by the Iraqis. I've said from the beginning that the whole context of judging our involvement and success in Iraq is not a win or lose prospect. The future of Iraq will be judged and decided by the Iraqi people. We can help them.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you agree with Senators Clinton and Obama that we need to have basically a timetable for withdrawal, bringing out one to two brigades a month?
SEN. HAGEL: Well I think we need a clear plan in -- yes, withdrawal. We're going to have to start working out way out of this. How we do it must be responsibly. We're in a deep hole. I think we're in a quagmire, but at the same time we have national interests there. We have allies there. I think we should go back to the Baker- Hamilton report -- some of that is irrelevant today because it's almost two years old -- and take out of those 76 recommendations some of the things that still work. I have called for the last two years for institutionalizing a strategic security framework in that area. I have called for engaging Iran and Syria. There's not going to be any peace or stability, whether it's the Palestinian-Israel issue, or any other issue of that sort.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You were also very tough on President Bush last year when he announced the surge last January. Take a look at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
SEN. HAGEL: (From videotape.) Madame Secretary, that I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That same week you wrote an op-ed with Senator Biden in "USA Today" where you said, "more troops in Baghdad will increase the likelihood of more American casualties and will not end the sectarian Iraqi massacres that are occurring every day." Now, as you point out, the surge has not yielded all of the political progress that everybody wanted, but clearly there have been fewer American casualties and the massacres have ended. You were wrong about that, weren't you?
SEN. HAGEL: No, I was not wrong about it. We have lost over 900 dead Americans since the surge. Now if you want to dismiss that as success, that will be your interpretation. The fact is, in the end all that matters is not a military tactical victory. Of course, when you flood the zone with American firepower, which is superior to anything in the world -- we have the best soldiers, the best led, best equipped --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But you didn't think that would work at the time?
SEN. HAGEL: No, that's not what I said. That's not what I said. I said what you will do is you will further bog yourselves down into a situation, making the Iraqis more dependent on you, making it more difficult to get out. In the end, you're not going to be any closer to a political reconciliation. If all of this is working so well, George, then why is the Bush administration now talking about keeping brigades in there at a 140,000, -- larger than what we had in there when the surge started? Why did General Petraeus say last week -- General Petraeus -- that there has not been commensurate political progress?
That in the end is all that's going to matter anyway. What the surge was all about, George, was trying to buy time for the Iraqis. They've not used that time very well. There wasn't any question, just like taking Saddam Hussein out, we were going to do that. We were going to do that -- probably dispatch him pretty quickly. That was never the issue. The issue was what happens after he's gone.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator McCain was on my program just a few weeks ago. He made it clear that one of the cornerstones of his campaign was saying those who opposed the surge were just wrong. He was talking about both Senator Obama and Clinton at the time, but it seems when I'm listening to you that your difference over the Iraq war are just going to be too big a hurdle for you to sign on to Senator McCain's campaign.
SEN. HAGEL: Well, no. I think here's the issue, George.
We are where we are first of all. We're not going to go back and rewind any of this. It's interesting to debate what I said or John said a year ago, and it's important. But the fact is, how do we go forward? The fact is we know we're not going to be there indefinitely. Secretary Gates has said that, others have said that. And I know John has said that maybe if it takes 100 years we'll be there. I'm not sure what he means by that. We're not going to be there 100 years.
The fact is all of our senior members of this cabinet have said that we're not going to sign long-term commitments to defend Iraq. I didn't say that. They said that. Rice said that. Gates said that. So the fact is we are where we are.
Now, how do we unwind this? How do we responsibly work our way back out? Every general has said publicly and privately we cannot sustain the rate of redeployments in Iraq. Afghanistan, we're going to need more troops in Afghanistan.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Are Clinton and Obama's plans responsible?
SEN. HAGEL: Pardon me?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Are Clinton and Obama's plans responsible?
SEN. HAGEL: I haven't looked at their plans.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Really?
SEN. HAGEL: I haven't -- well, I don't know what their plans are. I know what they said that they want to bring troops out of there. I know that. I've never seen the specifics of how they want to do that responsibly -- the time lines. I know we have debated general timelines in the Congress. I've never looked at it. What I've been doing the last year, George, is not focusing on the foreign policy of Obama or Ron Paul or Clinton or John McCain. I've been writing a book. I've been doing my job as United States senator.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You also write in the book about the importance of the next president having a bipartisan cabinet, and you've been mentioned as a possible secretary of defense in an Obama administration. Would you consider that?
SEN. HAGEL: I'm a long way from that. First of all, we don't know who the next president is going to be. I don't expect to be in government next year. I don't look forward to be in government next year. I've had a great 12 years.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What are you going to be doing?
SEN. HAGEL: Maybe your driver, George. I don't know. (Laughs.) We don't have any skills sadly.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You don't want that job.
SEN. HAGEL: Senators have no skills -- most of us. I can't speak for all my colleagues, but -- so I'm going to have to go out and maybe make an honest living. But I don't know what I'm going to do. I'll worry about that next year.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Hagel, thanks for joining us this morning.
SEN. HAGEL: Thank you. Thank you.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Have a good Easter.