Usually, those in attendance at these small events are warned that the comments are "off the record." However, no one issued such a statement yesterday. Nonetheless, just about everything Hagel said -- and he does speak frankly for a politician -- can be found in his public statements.
For instance, Hagel made clear that he is not fond of the Bush administration's "coalitions of the willing." As early as March 2003, the LA Times reported:
Hagel, a conservative, has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of the Bush policy; the current international coalition supporting the war, he charges, "is not a coalition of the willing; it's a coalition of the bought."In fact, after Hagel gave the strong impression that he is a genuine multilateralist, I asked him about shared decision-making and legitimacy, two of my central concerns about American unilateralism. He used that as an opportunity to criticize the current approach, but didn't take the bait I offered. However, in a January 2003 speech at Notre Dame University, Hagel did talk about these concerns in an admirable fashion:
The threats to both our country and the world will require strengthened alliances to manage the diplomatic, economic, law enforcement, intelligence and humanitarian aspects of these new global challenges. Military power alone will not be enough.Maybe I should make Hagel my favorite Republican, supplanting John McCain?
Working through the United Nations and regional alliances allows America to reinforce, not weaken, its power, principles and purpose....America gains by working with and empowering our allies to share leadership and initiative.
There is a disturbing and widening gap between America and the world regarding the perception of the intent of American power. America must not forget the role that coalitions play in bringing international support and legitimacy to our policies, especially to the use of force.
Hagel has also introduced bills in the Senate which attempt to address the problem of global warming. As he made clear yesterday, he's a fan of providing incentives to business to promote technological solutions, and opposed to regulatory approaches, but he's obviously willing to push the issue of climate change. That's good news, ultimately.
As I said, Hagel spoke pretty frankly for a politician. Michael Crowley in The New Republic once called him a "McCain-in-training." This is interesting, because he is sometimes viewed as a presidential candidate for 2008. He's been called a "sane foreign policy voice" by centrists who don't like the current administration's choices.