Returning his attention to foreign affairs, Mr. Hagel gave the administration some credit for organizing this week’s Middle East summit in Annapolis, Md. He described the gathering as “helpful” but also wondered, “Are we going to build on this, more than a photo op?”
Speaking briefly to the Observer after the event, Mr. Hagel bemoaned the Bush administration’s failure to build on the work undertaken by the Clinton White House in trying to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
While he said, “I don’t blame all of what has happened in the Middle East on Bush”, he added, “I do think it would be a different situation today if we had taken initiatives, and we took no initiative.”
During the event, Mr. Hagel also addressed the situation in Iraq:
“The military has done a magnificent job,” Mr. Hagel, himself a decorated Vietnam veteran, declared, “but we have not seen that translate into political progress, which is in the end all that counts.”
Referring to his colleagues on Capitol Hill, Mr. Hagel also predicted that if there were no clear signs of political reconciliation in Iraq by January or February “then even some of the strongest advocates of the war are going to move in a real different direction.”
The lesson of Iraq, Mr. Hagel contended, was “that you can’t unilaterally, arbitrarily march into a country, invade a sovereign nation, regardless of the dynamics or the reasons…without alliances, the strengths of those alliances.”
Despite the harshness of Mr. Hagel’s criticisms and the seriousness of the subjects being discussed, the mood of the event was not unremittingly grim.
One question from the floor asked Mr. Hagel to consider the possibility of an independent “Hagel-Bloomberg” ticket in next year’s election.
“Bloomberg’s got the money. I think it would be Bloomberg-Hagel,” Mr. Hagel shot back to laughter.