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Hagel Blasts Bush Foreign Policy

In a broad-ranging talk at a dinner Tuesday night in Washington, GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska warned of dangers in the way the Bush administration is handling the Iran issue, previewing a major policy speech on Iran that he will give next week.

Hagel has announced that he will leave the Senate when his current term ends in a year; he has also said, after considering it, that he will not make a run for the presidency. His talk Tuesday night, sponsored by the New America Foundation, was also full of thinly veiled criticisms of the administration's general foreign policy approach.

He characterized Iran as a leading issue that, if not handled well, could lead to "one of the great miscalculations in history." In remarks that seem to further distinguish his views on countering Iran's nuclear ambitions from those of the administration's, he warned that "it's the unpredictable that always gives us pause. ... The president of the United States is talking about World War III, and threatening."

He also appeared to urge stronger diplomacy--and reaching out to Russia in particular, whose president, Vladimir Putin, has been highly critical of late of U.S. sanctions and the atmosphere of threatened military action. "Does anyone believe we are going to be successful in dealing with Iran without Russia?" he asked.

A published report says Hagel has written a private note to the president urging "direct, unconditional, comprehensive talks with Iran."

Taking up the general issue of whether the administration has been too unilateral and too unwilling to rely on international institutions, Hagel noted that the United Nations charter is "not set up for us to get our way every time." He added that given high global levels of anti-Americanism, "reintroducing America to the world" will be a critical challenge for the balance of the current presidency and beyond. Hagel also openly worried about the toll of fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on U.S. troops and said that "we have lost a sense of citizenship." Also, in an apparent rhetorical shot at Vice President Cheney, a leading hawk on security issues, Hagel said: "There's a vice president out there who had five deferments. He said, 'I don't have time to serve.' "

By Thomas Omestad

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