In a riveting and passionate statement on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) showed why he has become one of the most respected people in the United States Senate, from either party. Hagel, a highly-decorated Vietnam Veteran, who has been assailing George W. Bush's conduct of the Iraq war for two years, lashed out at those on Capitol Hill who try to stifle dissent on the war and said that the Bush administrations' actions have made the entire Middle East far more dangerous than it has ever been.
"Does it get better if we don't talk about it? Is that what we're thinking here?" said Hagel, as the Foreign Relations Committee debated the Biden-Hagel-Levin resolution against escalating the war in Iraq. "Well, let's just not talk about a resolution. Let's not have a resolution. It'll get better."
"Well, all I would do is point to the last four years -- are things better in the Middle East today? No, they're more dangerous today in the Middle East than they've ever been. I challenge anyone to question that," he said in an emotional statement. "We hear that from our panelists every day we have hearings. Whether it's Iran, whether it's Lebanon, whether it's Syria, whether it's Iraq, it is far more dangerous than we've ever seen."
Hagel went even further by acknowledging what most thinking Americans already understand -- that Team Bush's actions have ruined any standing we once had in that region of the world.
"We have totally destroyed our standing and reputation and influence in the Middle East, by what we're doing," said Hagel. "And the more we sink down into this bog, the harder it is to get out of and the more enemies we make."
But for many Democrats used to having their patriotism attacked every time they oppose any White House policy, some of Hagel's most welcome words had to have been when he went after politicians -- most of whom are in his own party -- who smear political opponents, rather than having an honest debate on the issues.
"I am grateful that we live in a country, that allows us to bring before the American public, differences of opinion, in a civil way, an important way," said Hagel, who many believe will run for president in 2008. "Yes, it's passionate. Yes, it's emotional, people feel strongly on all sides -- I respect that. But I would caution again: stop the impugning of peoples' motives. Stop the political stuff -- all of us."
"This is much bigger than that. And if we're not adult enough to understand that, we will lose the confidence of the American public -- that's what's happened right now."
Hagel had me ready to get out of my chair and cheer, which is not an easy thing to do given the lack of regard I have for almost all Republicans. But Hagel is a different breed, who has for some time seemed prepared to go for broke and say whatever the hell he believes.
Some of his fellow Senators vying for the Democratic presidential nomination may want to take note of what they saw on Wednesday and find some true conviction of their own. If they don't and he does indeed throw his hat into the ring, they may end up getting run over by Chuck Hagel in November of 2008.
As Hagel said to the Senate colleagues he believes are too concerned with politics to take a hard stand on Iraq, "Why are you elected? If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes."
You can read more from Bob at BobGeiger.com.