Hagel Splits the Republican Ranks


There are two Republican parties operating in the nation's capital on the war in Iraq. One is led by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, the other by Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

Bush and Cheney seem intent on burying the party's interests in the mangled streets of Baghdad. Hagel wants fellow Republicans to recognize that the nation is continuing on a reckless mission and has been for years.

To no one's surprise, Cheney is the most confrontational with Congress with his opposition to a nonbinding resolution in the Senate against the president's "surge" of dispatching 21,500 more soldiers into a civil war.

In an interview with CNN earlier this week, Cheney had the gall to declare that the resolution would show the United States had "no stomach" for finishing the war.

This is the same Cheney who escaped service in Vietnam with five deferments. He took a pass. At least Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard during that period.

Make no mistake; Hagel is a conservative from a conservative state. However, he is a decorated veteran of Vietnam who knows something about combat.

Hagel dressed down fellow Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee for their timidity on the resolution. His voice rising, he suggested they sell shoes if they wanted a safe job.

Hagel's words fell on deaf ears. He was the only Republican to support the resolution.

But some GOP senators on the panel seemed to want it both ways. They voted against the resolution but issued dire worries about its chances for success.

Hagel has separated himself from his old friend and celebrated Vietnam veteran Sen. John McCain of Arizona. McCain is considered the leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination.

But McCain's overtly hawkish position on Iraq threatens to make him the Hubert Humphrey of 2008. As vice president, Humphrey was hamstrung by President Lyndon Johnson's intransigence in the Vietnam mess. Humphrey wound up losing the Democratic nomination in 1972 to antiwar candidate George McGovern in a huge split in the party. McGovern then lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon.

Hagel has staked out an interesting position that could make things uncomfortable for McCain in the months ahead.

These coming weeks will be crucial to many Republicans. Are they for or against Bush's plan without hiding behind words of caution?

Simple question: for or against? Period.