What Was Chuck Hagel Afraid Of?
I suspect that I know.
First, a reminder about who Chuck Hagel is. Chuck Hagel, a Republican US senator from Nebraska, is the closest thing the Republican Party has right now to another Ronald Reagan. He's as mediagenic as Reagan, as passionate as Reagan, and he's a straight-ticket party-line Reagan Republican ... except on one issue, where he's closer to Reagan's supposed idol Barry Goldwater: he's (more or less) an isolationist. Chuck Hagel believes that US combat troops have no business going anywhere unless the US itself is in immanent danger of attack or has already been attacked; if actually governing, he could probably get his arm twisted far enough to make at least some gesture to help one of our closer allies in, say, western Europe -- but probably only if they'd already been attacked. If even then. So unsurprisingly, he's locked horns with the current administration over and over and over again about the invasion of Iraq. He's renounced his vote in favor of the war as a mistake, denounced himself back then as a dupe who should have known better than to trust the verbal promises he'd been given that there wasn't really going to be a war, and been all over the administration like a coat of paint almost every day for the last four years about what an awful mistake they'd made going in, how badly they were screwing it up, and how horribly it was all going to end.
So for Chuck Hagel, it would be terribly embarrassing, to say the least, if things went well in Iraq. And the last couple of weeks in Baghdad have apparently gone extraordinarily well. Almost disturbingly well, frankly. Like Chuck Hagel, I was absolutely sure that this half-hearted so-called "surge" of 7% more troops, sending that few people into the worst insurgent strongholds with only the Iraqi army for backup and with no better equipment than the Iraqi police get, was going to result in our troops getting slaughtered by the Mahdi Army of Iraqi cleric Moqtada al Sadr, whose troops matched or maybe even outnumbered any force we could plausibly deploy into Baghdad and who were dug into positions where we couldn't use any of our more effective weapons to get them out. But it hasn't happened that way. Instead, even before 3/4ths of the troops even got there, the Mahdi Army folded like a cheap suit. Their leader stopped appearing in public, and his tens of thousands of militiamen just sat on their hands and watched as hundreds of their mid-level commanders were arrested, and I am just as baffled as I'll bet Chuck Hagel is as to why in the heck the Mahdi Army didn't fight back.
Worse, over the last week the good news from Baghdad seems to keep trickling in; even the "bad" news looks disquietingly good. Since Chuck Hagel waffled, Iraq has announced their economic plans, and while it remains to be seen what the resulting bill will look like after it passes through Iraq's Shiite-dominated legislature, the plan literally gives Sunnis everything they've asked for as a pre-condition for ending the insurgency: a promise to share oil revenues with all districts based on population, reversal of de-Baathification, and amnesty for all insurgents who renounce future violence. (Sarah DiLorenzo, "Iraq Presents Economic Plan at U.N.," Associated Press, 3/16/07.) And when Muqtada al Sadr finally did take a stand against the American invasion of Shiite neighborhoods, he ordered his thousands of militiamen ... to peacefully protest in the streets. Once. Briefly. On everybody's day off. Not even one shot fired. (Kim Gamel, "Shiite Cleric Urges Resistance of U.S.," Associated Press, 3/16/07.)
So my educated guess is that Chuck Hagel, who now isn't so sure that the surge strategy is going to fail visibly obviously and miserably, wants to wait and see. If it fails, he can announce later in the year and say, "I told you so." If it succeeds, he can wait to announce his presidential campaign until the next Iraq fiasco (if any), or at least until the recent string of semi-successes in Baghdad is out of the news, and hope not to be asked a lot of questions about his predictions of failure, hope to change the subject back to why it was wrong and dumb of us to go in even if we do win. Or he can decide that there's no political advancement in his future as an anti-war candidate who denounced a popular and successful war, and go on being a US Senator, not such an awful job really even if he probably is chafing at being in the minority party after years in the majority party.