Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, a decorated veteran and well respected leader considering a 2008 presidential campaign, took the president to the woodshed today over the current conflict in the Middle East. President Bush and his administration have failed once again and even Republicans are taking notice. Here are the senator's remarks:
“Mr. President, The Middle East is a region in crisis. After three weeks of escalating and continuing violence, the potential for wider regional conflict becomes more real each day. The hatred in the Middle East is being driven deeper and deeper into the fabric of the region...which will make any lasting and sustained peace effort very difficult to achieve. How do we realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an American friend, the country and people of Lebanon, is going to enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East? The sickening slaughter on both sides must end now. President Bush must call for an immediate cease fire. This madness must stop.
The Middle East today is more combustible and complex than it has ever been. Uncertain popular support for regime legitimacy continues to weaken governments of the Middle East. Economic stagnation, persistent unemployment, deepening despair and wider unrest enhance the ability of terrorists to recruit and succeed. An Iran with nuclear weapons raises the specter of broader proliferation and a fundamental strategic realignment in the region, creating more regional instability.
America’s approach to the Middle East must be consistent and sustained, and must understand the history, interests and perspectives of our regional friends and allies.
The United States will remain committed to defending Israel. Our relationship with Israel is a special and historic one. But, it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice. Achieving a lasting resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is as much in Israel’s interest as any other country in the world.
Unending war will continually drain Israel of its human capital, resources, and energy as it fights for its survival. The United States and Israel must understand that it is not in their long-term interests to allow themselves to become isolated in the Middle East and the world. Neither can allow themselves to drift into an “us against the world” global optic or zero-sum game. That would marginalize America’s global leadership, trust and influence...further isolate Israel...and prove to be disastrous for both countries as well as the region.
It is in Israel’s interest, as much as ours, that the United States be seen by all states in the Middle East as fair. This is the currency of trust.
The world has rightly condemned the despicable actions of Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists who attacked Israel and kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Israel has the undeniable right to defend itself against aggression. This is the right of all states.
Hezbollah is a threat to Israel, to Lebanon and to all who strive for lasting peace in the Middle East.
However, military action alone will not destroy Hezbollah or Hamas. Extended military action is tearing Lebanon apart, killing innocent civilians, destroying its economy and infrastructure, creating a humanitarian disaster, further weakening Lebanon’s fragile democratic government, strengthening popular Muslim and Arab support for Hezbollah, and deepening hatred of Israel across the Middle East. The pursuit of tactical military victories at the expense of the core strategic objective of Arab-Israeli peace is a hollow victory. The war against Hezbollah and Hamas will not be won on the battlefield.
To achieve a strategic shift in the conditions for Middle East peace, the United States must use the global condemnation of terrorist acts as the basis for substantive change. For a lasting and popularly supported resolution, only a strong Lebanese government and a strong Lebanese army, backed by the international community, can rid Lebanon of these corrosive militias and terrorist organizations.
President Bush and Secretary Rice must become and remain deeply engaged in the Middle East. Only U.S. leadership can build a consensus of purpose among our regional and international partners. To lead and sustain U.S. engagement, the President should appoint a statesman of global stature, experience and ability to serve as his personal envoy to the region who would report directly to President, and be empowered with the authority to speak and act for the President. Former Secretaries of State Baker and Powell fit this profile.
The President must publicly decry the slaughter and work toward an immediate cease fire. The UN Security Council should urgently adopt a new binding resolution that provides a comprehensive political, security and economic framework for Lebanon, Israel and region – a framework that begins with the immediate cessation of violence. I strongly support the deployment of a robust international force along the Israel-Lebanon border to facilitate a steady deployment of a strengthened Lebanese Army into southern Lebanon to eventually assume responsibility for security and the rule of law.
America must listen carefully to its friends and partners in the region. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and others – countries that understand the Middle East far better than we do – must commit to help resolve today’s crisis and be active partners in helping realize the already agreed-upon two-state solution.
The core of all challenges in the Middle East remains the underlying Arab-Israeli conflict. The failure to address this root cause will allow Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorists to continue to sustain popular Muslim and Arab support – a dynamic that continues to undermine America’s standing in the region, and the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and others – whose support is critical for any Middle East resolution.
The United States should engage our Middle East and international partners to revive the Beirut Declaration, or some version of it, proposed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and adopted unanimously by the Arab League in March 2002. In this historic initiative, the Arab world recognized Israel’s right to exist and sought to establish a path toward a two-state solution and broader Arab-Israeli peace. Even though Israel could not accept it as written, it represented a very significant “starting point” document initiated by Arab countries. Today, we need a new Beirut Declaration-type initiative. We squandered the last one.
The concept and intent of the 2002 Beirut Declaration is as relevant today as it was in 2002. An Arab-initiated Beirut-type declaration would re-invest regional Arab states with a stake in achieving progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. This type of initiative would offer a positive alternative vision for Arab populations to the ideology and goals of Islamic militants. The United States must explore this approach as part of its diplomatic engagement in the Middle East.
Lasting peace in the Middle East, and stability and security for Israel will come only from a regionally-oriented political settlement.
Former American Middle East Envoy Dennis Ross once observed that in the Middle East a process is necessary because process absorbs events...without a process, events become crises. He was right. Look at where we are today in the Middle East with no process. Crisis diplomacy is no substitute for sustained, day-to-day engagement.
America’s approach to Syria and Iran is inextricably tied to Middle East peace. Whether or not they were directly involved in the latest Hezbollah and Hamas aggression in Israel, both countries exert influence in the region in ways that undermine stability and security. As we work with our friends and allies to deny Syria and Iran any opportunity to further corrode the situation in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, both Damascus and Tehran must hear from America directly.
As John McLaughlin, the former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence recently wrote in the Washington Post,
“Even superpowers have to talk to bad guys. The absence of a diplomatic relationship with Iran and the deterioration of the one with Syria -- two countries that bear enormous responsibility for the current crisis -- leave the United States with fewer options and levers than might otherwise have been the case. Distasteful as it might have been to have or to maintain open and normal relations with such states, the absence of such relations ensures that we will have more blind spots than we can afford and that we will have to deal through surrogates on issues of vital importance to the United States.
Ultimately, the United States will need to engage Iran and Syria with an agenda open to all areas of agreement and disagreement. For this dialogue to have any meaning or possible lasting relevance, it should encompass the full agenda of issues.
There is very little good news coming out of Iraq today. Increasingly vicious sectarian violence continues to propel Iraq toward civil war. The U.S. announcement last week to send additional U.S. troops and military police back into Baghdad reverses last month’s decision to have Iraqi forces take the lead in Baghdad...and represents a dramatic set back for the U.S and the Iraqi Government. The Iraqi Government has limited ability to enforce the rule of law in Iraq, especially in Baghdad. Green Zone politics appear to have little bearing or relation to the realities of the rest of Iraq.
The Iraqis will continue to face difficult choices over the future of their country. The day-to-day responsibilities of governing and security will soon have to be assumed by Iraqis. This is not about setting a timeline. This is about understanding the implications of the forces of reality. This reality is being determined by Iraqis – not Americans. America is bogged down in Iraq and this is limiting our diplomatic and military options. The longer America remains in Iraq in its current capacity, the deeper the damage to our force structure – particularly the U.S. Army. And it will continue to place more limitations on an already dangerously over-extended force structure that will further limit our options and public support.
The Middle East crisis represents a moment of great danger, but it is also an opportunity. Crisis focuses the minds of leaders and the attention of nations. The Middle East need not be a region forever captive to the fire of war and historical hatred. It can avoid this fate if the United States pursues sustained and engaged leadership worthy of our history, purpose, and power. America cannot fix every problem in the world – nor should it try. But we must get the big issues and important relationships right and concentrate on those. We know that without engaged and active American leadership the world is more dangerous. The United States must focus all of its leadership and resources on ending this madness in the Middle East— now!”