Politics & Policy

Chuck Hagel Moveson

Meet the antiwar group's new spokesman on Iraq.

The Left-wing antiwar group MoveOn, a key Democratic support, has found a new spokesman in Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (R., France).

Last week, the Nebraska senator made headlines when he criticized the administration’s Iraq policy saying, “The White House is completely disconnected from reality… It’s like they’re just making it up as they go along.” Hagel also warned that Iraq was on the verge of becoming another Vietnam.

While Hagel’s comments faded from media attention, MoveOn went into action. The same day as this week’s speech by President Bush on Iraq the MoveOn PAC began a new advertising campaign calling for a withdrawal of U.S. forces. They took Hagel’s words and placed them alongside claims that President Bush, “is trying to change the subject from Iraq to terrorism and September 11-implying that Iraq attacked us in 2001.”

On Wednesday, MoveOn sent out a fundraising letter to supporters asking for $500,000 dollars to “expand the advertising into the hometowns of Republican members of Congress who will have tough elections in 2006. That will help send a signal that Congress will pay a price at the ballot box because of the Iraq failures.” The letter explains that 84 percent of MoveOn’s 3.3 million registered members support a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

The ad itself is titled “Hagel” and reads in part: “It’s time to come home. We went in the wrong way, let’s come home the right way.”

Hagel’s office was not pleased when they received word of the new ad. Hagel claims MoveOn used his words out of context and asked for the ad to be taken down immediately. Hagel’s official statement on the ad reads in part:

This ad is dishonest. I have never supported immediate removal of American troops from Iraq. I have said that to withdraw from Iraq now would have catastrophic consequences that would ripple across a generation of Americans, Iraqis, and the entire Middle East. I have said I believe we can succeed in Iraq. MoveOn neglects to mention that in their ad.

I have differences with the Administration over the execution of our war policy …War is deadly serious and the debate over our policy should match the seriousness of the situation. Americans are entitled to an honest public debate about our policy in Iraq. Cheap, misleading 30-second partisan political attack ads debase our debate.

In the statement addressed to MoveOn Hagel demands that the ad be pulled down.”

Needless to say, MoveOn and the MoveOn PAC aren’t taking orders from the senator. When I called their offices asking for a response to Hagel’s statement, a spokesman was at first confused, blurting into the phone, “But you guys hate us!” MoveOnPAC eventually forwarded their official statement to Hagel’s response:

Unfortunately, he is mistaken when he says our TV ad calls for “immediate withdrawal.” We have never held this position. What we want is a date to begin a responsible, phased exit of our troops from Iraq. We support a new and growing bi-partisan effort to set such a date led by Representatives Walter Jones and Neil Abercrombie in the US House of Representatives.

We make this call for a responsible exit strategy because we understand that it is the American military occupation of Iraq that is fueling the insurgency there. As long as we fail to announce a timely withdrawal plan, the number of insurgents and the intensity of their attacks will grow. The President’s failed policy betrays our troops, prolongs the agony of the Iraqi people, motivates terrorists worldwide and does little to enhance our national security. We stand by our ad.

So, who is at fault? On one hand, MoveOn has created another offensive advertisement that insults U.S. soldiers fighting the insurgency and assisting in Iraq’s reconstruction. It’s another slap in the face from a group that got its start defending former President Clinton’s infidelity and who called for “restraint” after the attacks of 9/11.

On the other hand, MoveOn does not put words in Hagel’s mouth. The words they cite are in fact his. Hagel’s rhetoric has been so strong, that even his self-described “good friend” John McCain was critical when asked to respond to Hagel’s comments while appearing on CNN’s Larry King Live. McCain told guest host Bob Costas: “I completely disagree. There are signs of progress. Yes, it’s tough, and it’s hard, and we’ve made mistakes and we paid a heavy price for those mistakes. Unfortunately, in wars, serious mistakes are made … And there is a legitimacy to the Iraqi government that, frankly, the government of South Vietnam never had.”

MoveOn is not going to take orders from a Republican senator, even if it’s Chuck Hagel. And while their new ad is not likely to make new converts against the war on terror, it’s never helpful to have a Republican senator criticizing a Republican president’s foreign policy in areas where Republican candidates are fighting for reelection. As he ponders a 2008 presidential campaign, Hagel should be aware that ’08 watchers are paying attention. Hagel would better serve his own interests and those of his party by keeping his criticisms fair and reiterating the support he claims to have for U.S. forces and the push for democracy in Iraq.

Eric Pfeiffer writes the daily political “Buzz” column on NRO.

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