(CNSNews.com) - Speaking at the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law on Monday, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said that the United States needed to take a less militaristic approach to the war on terrorism and make a greater effort at dialogue with Middle East nations.
"Until we get all the great powers involved in some way, we will find ourselves bogged down in the specifics of Iraq, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and other places," he said. "We need a larger focal point than just ricocheting from crisis to crisis like this."
The Bush administration, he charged, was determined to invade Iraq and ignored admonishments about doing so. "There was not a Middle East leader five years ago who did not tell the president to do what he did," Hagel said.
The Nebraska senator, who emerged last year as the GOP's most vocal critic of the Iraq war, criticized American Middle East policy for flying in the face of history and praised presidents like Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower for building "coalitions of common interest" after World War II that brought nations together.
He also cited Ronald Reagan as a model leader for promoting the interests of America while still being willing to negotiate with perceived enemies like Mikhail Gorbachev.
"These were thinkers," said Hagel. "These were wise people who looked beyond the immediacy of a conflict."
By contrast, Hagel had scathing criticism for President Bush and the Iraq war, which he described as having put America "in a very dangerous ditch" and having weakened a military that will "take years to build back."
"Today, what we're doing because of our five years in Iraq is essentially destroying our military," he said.
"Our military cannot fix the Iraqis' problem. They can buy some time, but they can't do their job," he added.
Hagel's Iraq comments echoed many of his past criticisms of the Iraq war, which he began making in 2005. Despite his solid conservative credentials, Hagel broke ranks with most Republicans that year and accused the Bush administration of having destabilized the Middle East.
He also voted against President Bush's "surge" strategy, a policy that he criticized during his speech, downplaying recent reports that insurgent attacks in Iraq had decreased.
"There have been some successes in Anbar province," Hagel said, "but those successes started at the beginning of the year because al Qaeda had overplayed its hand with the Sunnis."
"We had very little to do with it," he added.
Hagel also addressed recent criticisms by former Federal Chairman Alan Greenspan that oil had been a motivation for the invasion of Iraq, which he believed were valid.
"People say we're not fighting for oil. Of course we are," said Hagel. "They talk about America's national interest. What the hell do you think they're talking about? We're not there for figs."
Greenspan later retracted his comments, telling The Washington Post that he didn't believe that oil was Bush's motivation for the Iraq war but rather that deposing Saddam Hussein would be a critical boon for the global economy.
Hagel's remarks were made before a crowd of about 70, most of them graduate students at the Columbus School of Law. He had been invited to speak as part of CUA's "Middle East Dialogue Program."
Hagel currently sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and will retire from the Senate in 2008.
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