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Public Statements

CBS "Face the Nation" - Transcript

Interview

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MR. SCHIEFFER: Six times. So, you were both there. The spotlight was, of course, on Barack Obama but you were in all the briefings in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Let me start with you Senator Hagel. Do you agree with Barack Obama's assessment on Afghanistan and on Iraq now where he is saying we've got to swift the focus to Afghanistan?

SEN. HAGEL: Well, I think clearly, and I've believed this for some time that the central front on our war against terrorism and all the dynamics in play there is in fact that border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. We've seen the resurgence of the Taliban in that area, of al Qaeda, other terrorist groups. We are stretched too thin, in Afghanistan in my opinion, with manpower. We are going to have to put some addition troops in there. That is not alone going to solve that problem.

I believe Barack Obama's general assessment is correct but one additional point. This is going to require at least a new trilateral policy, strategic policy context with the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States as well as including Iran and India into this. And if we don't do that, we're going to be faced with years and years of this problem with significant global consequences. We still have interest in Iraq, of course we do. How we unwind that in the timeframe is obviously going to get played out.

But, I think overall, at least in my opinion, Barack Obama's assessment of it is correct.

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MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, I mean, are we in danger of losing in Afghanistan? I mean, how bad is it?

SEN. REED: We're seeing in uptake in violence, a significant increase in violence. We're also seeing, and it's hard to draw a definitive conclusions, but we saw a very coordinated attack against American forces involving 200 plus soldiers, not soldiers, Taliban forces who attacked and tragically killed several of our soldiers. That is an indication that they are rearming, training, are better fighters -- that's a very discouraging and very, I think, significant sign. General McKiernan, on the ground, told us point-blank he needs more forces. We've got to get those forces to our troops in the field.

SEN. HAGEL: Well, I think in addition to what Jack has said, and I agree with his comments, we have got to focus more directly with the Afghan government, as well as the other governments in that area, on counter-insurgency efforts, coordinating those with counter-narcotics efforts as well as corruption. Building institutions to govern Afghanistan is one of the most specific objectives that we have. That doesn't occur overnight. But that has to come with some strategic context, not just base on security. That helps -- that helps us get there, but this is a wider scope of what has to happen there. And it's difficult, it's time-consuming, and that's why I have said for a number of years, and I've been to Afghanistan, I think, four times. Doesn't mean I'm an expert. And Pakistan as well -- that those countries have to be included in this, because we will never be able to put enough troops in there to stop that, and we've got to get to the root here. Counter-narcotics, counter-insurgency -- all framed in integrated strategies, as well as the neighbors and building institutions to govern.

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MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you this, Senator Hagel. You're a Republican. For a long time you were very, very close to John McCain. I want to ask you later are you still that close but he has been very, very hard on Senator Obama all this week and, I mean, the gloves have really come off.

This morning in an interview on ABC he said, I think it was seven times, that Senator Obama simply doesn't understand the stakes in Iraq, he doesn't understand the situation there. And earlier in the week, we'll look at some tape here, here is how he put it at one point.

SEN. McCAIN (From videotape.): Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a campaign.

MR. SCHIEFFER: He said this morning that Senator Obama's strategy was based, basically, on political expediency; that he chose, and these are Senator McCain's words, "a political path that would get him the nomination."

SEN. HAGEL: Well, let me begin by making this comment and answering your question. Both of these men are smart, capable, decent men who love their country. I think we as a nation are far better off for these two capable men. One will have to govern this country and bring the country together, as well as lead the world and bring the world together, and that's going to take a bipartisan consensus to govern. They're better off to focus on policy differences. I think John is treading on some very thin ground here when he impugns motives and when we start to get into, `You're less patriotic than me. I'm more patriotic.' I admire, respect John McCain very much, I have a good relationship -- to this day we do, we talk often. I talked to him right before I went to Iraq, matter of fact. John's better than that. And he's not asked for my advice on this, but since you've asked me the question, I think both he and Barack have got -- have to be very careful here, because it's just not responsible to be saying things like that. Again, if for no other reason, for the good of this country and the world, one of these two men, on January 20th next year, is going to have to bring this country together, and the world, to deal with huge problems. I think the next president is going to inherit an inventory of challenges as big as Franklin Roosevelt inherited on March 4, 1933.

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MR. SCHIEFFER: Senator Reed, now, you've done a lot of these trips. They call them CODELs, congressional delegations. Are you ever allowed to take cameras when you go in to visit to wounded troops? I thought that was sort of the general rule that everybody knew about.

SEN. REED: I don't think Senator Obama would have done that. Senator Hagel, Senator Obama and I visited the combat support hospital in Baghdad to thank those nurses, those doctors, to see patients that were there, to bring a bit of greetings from home and profound thanks. That should be in the ad that Senator McCain is running. I think Senator Obama made a very wise choice. If it's any suggestion that a visit to a military hospital would be political, he made the wise choice not to go. But when we were in Baghdad we made a point, at the end of a very exhausting day, to go in, see these magnificent young Americans and those doctors and nurses that give such tremendous care without a lot of fanfare, just to say thanks. He's did it, the same thing. We went, we didn't stay in Kabul, we went to Jalalabad to see the soldiers of the 173rd. We stopped in Basra to see our soldiers down there. We went into Anbar province to see soldiers there. Now, that is a completely distorted and I think inappropriate advertisement.

SEN. HAGEL: Let me add to that. As you know, Bob, the congressional delegation that you refer to ended when we parted in Jordan. At that point, it was a political trip for Senator Obama. I think it would have been inappropriate for him, and certainly he would have been criticized by the McCain people and the press, and probably should have been-- if on a political trip in Europe paid for by political funds, not the taxpayers, to go essentially, then, and be accused of using our wounded men and women as props for his campaign. I think the judgment there, and I don't know the facts, by the way, I know what I've just read, and no one's asked me about it other than what you just asked about. But I think it would be totally inappropriate for him, on a campaign trip, to go to a military hospital and use those soldiers as props.

And so I think he probably, based on what I know, he did the right thing. We saw troops everywhere we went on the congressional delegation. We went out of our way to see those troops. We wanted to see those troops. And that's part of our job, to see those troops, by the way, and listen to those troops, Bob. And we did.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Do you think that ad was appropriate?

SEN. HAGEL: I do not think it was appropriate.

MR. SCHIEFFER: You do not.

SEN. HAGEL: I do not.

(Announcements)

MR. SCHIEFFER: We're back again with Senators Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed. And you know, Senator Hagel, you were talking about the next president's going to have to lead in a bipartisan fashion. You are well aware that some people are saying that maybe one way to do that would be if Senator Obama, a Democrat, asked you to be his running mate.

Now, let me just ask you flat out, has anybody talked to you about that? Have you been asked to furnish any kind of information, or are you interested in anything of that nature?

SEN. HAGEL: No, no one has talked to me about it. I fully expect that Barack Obama will choose someone in his own party who would be very capable.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Would you be interested?

SEN. HAGEL: Well, I don't expect any of that. I'm not interested in it. Obviously, Bob, someone who cares about their country. I've put a lot of years in for this country and I'm very proud of my service to this country, as Jack Reed is, as many people are.

MR. SCHIEFFER: You're both military veterans. You were a veteran of Vietnam, of course.

SEN. HAGEL: And 12 years in the Senate, heading up the USO, working for the Reagan administration, George Bush's dad. I've done a lot of things. I'm proud of that. Anyone who cares about their country at a time of crisis, and I think this country's in a state of crisis, I think the world is, if you're asked to consider something, of course you've got to do that. I fully expect, though, to be a private citizen next year and go get a real job.

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MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you, Senator Hagel, and just turn a corner a bit if I could here.

One of the things that we didn't hear Senator Obama talk very much about is the situation with Iran. I would just ask you, how serious is this? We keep hearing reports that Israel is running exercises in case they have to make a decision and take a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear capabilities. How concerned are you about Iran, and what would you advise whoever the next president is going to be to do about that?

SEN. HAGEL: Well, Bob, I have for some time now talked about engaging Iran, and I have done that on the basis of not excusing their actions, not looking the other way or pretending that reality's not reality, but just the opposite.

The fact is, things are worse off in the Middle East today than they were eight years ago, by any measurement. Iran continues to go almost unchecked with its activities with Hamas and Hezbollah. Obviously, we have some sense that they are making progress on development of nuclear capability. They're critical to any solution in Afghanistan. Their tentacles are wrapped around many things. Now, it seems to me if we're going to be able to deal with the larger context of the Middle East, Central Asia and find some solutions, a new center of gravity, it's going to require engaging Iran.

I compliment the administration on having the undersecretary of state in one of those meetings last week. This is tough work, not unlike what we've been able to do with North Korea, not unlike where we were able to get to with Libya. It's imperfect, I recognize that, but I think we have got to get into the middle of this in a way where we can start influencing behaviors and direction. And it's based on common interest.

What does Iran get out of this? Same kind of thing it was about, and still is, in North Korea, Libya. And there's only one alternative we don't do that, Bob, and it's not a very pretty one. That's war. And so, I've been pretty clear on that, and that's the advice I'd give to the next president.

Now, this is imperfect, but without starting with a strategic regional context of how we deal with them, and I think we've got some beginning here with our involvement in that first meeting last week. Long process. But without that, Bob, we will end up seeing the whole Middle East blow up. The consequences of that are not good for the world.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you quickly. There's a hearing you talk about this, this is real criticism of a Republican administration. You're a Republican. Have you decided who you're going to vote for? Are you going to vote Republican or Democratic in this election?

SEN. HAGEL: I haven't decided. I am going to make that decision and will, and will vote when the time comes. But quite honestly, Bob, I'm trying to fulfill the commitments I made to my constituents in Nebraska, work as hard as I can the last year I'm in the Senate, do what I can to help John McCain or to help Barack Obama.

As I said, I talked to John right before I went to Iraq. He said publicly he was pleased that I was going with Barack Obama. And John said some very positive things about that relationship. And that's where I'm focused. I'm not going to get into the politics of this. Where I think I can play the most significant role for my country, not my party -- I actually put the country before the party -- is to use whatever expertise I can to help the next president of the United States govern in this country.

MR. SCHIEFFER: We have to stop there. Sorry, Senator Reed. I had another question for you, but just no time here. Thank you both for being here.

SEN. HAGEL: Thank you, Bob.


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