Robert Novak

What about claims by proponents of the Iraqi intervention that failure to stop the terrorists in Iraq will open the door to them in the American homeland?

"That's nonsense," Hagel replied. "I've never believed that. That's the same kind of rhetoric and thinking that neo-cons used to get us into this mess, and everything that [Donald] Rumsfeld, [Paul] Wolfowitz, [Richard] Perle, [Douglas] Feith and the vice president all said. Nothing turned out the way they said it would."

It is "nonsense," Hagel said, because "Iraq is not embroiled in a terrorist war today." A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he cited "national intelligence" attributing "maybe 10 percent of the insurgency and violence" to al Qaeda. Indeed, he described Shias, Sunnis and Kurds as opposed to al Qaeda: "They don't like the terrorists. What's happened in Anbar Province is the tribes are finally starting to connect with us because al Qaeda started killing some of their leadership and threatening their people. So the tribes now are at war with al Qaeda."

"So," said Hagel, "when I hear people say, 'Well, if we leave them to that, it will be chaos.' What do you think is going on now? Scaring the American people into this blind alley is so dangerous."

These judgments come from someone credited with rebuilding Nebraska's Republican Party who has a lifetime American Conservative Union record of 85.2 percent. Hagel represents millions of Republicans who are repelled by the Democratic personal assault on President Bush but deeply unhappy about his course in Iraq.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

©Creators Syndicate