America, Our Next Chapter

By Senator Chuck Hagel

Two-term U. S. Senator Chuck Hagel (Nebraska), who has often been mentioned as potential Presidential candidate, has written a candid, insightful and instructive commentary on America’s key issues – delving into Iran, Iraq, wars in general, the monetary system, the national debt, free trade, health care, mores, leadership and other pivotal subjects. His book is filled with heartwarming accounts of America’s growth, success and failures, throughout his life and tenure in the Senate, and with fascinating anecdotes about his years in combat in Vietnam and the inspirational values that he learned growing up in Nebraska’s farmlands. It is devoid of rhetoric, bombast and hyperbole, offering “plain speak” in the kindly, Hagelian way. Although well written, it is not literature; it is a loving revelation that will help the reader better grasp the issues and consider some solutions that are not offered by those that run for public office. Hagel, a soft-spoken, gentle giant of an American, gives us the truth and wisdom.

Senator Hagel laments that we cannot remove every conceivable thread to our safety and hope to maintain even a scintilla of the freedoms that we hold dear, and that imposing the American way of life on others by force is not respecting their right to choose a different way of life, concluding that it won’t work. Terrorism, he adds, “is dynamic and not static”; it is high jacking planes today but possibly “a cyber attack on our banking system tomorrow” or something else equally devastating and unpredictable. There can “no war on terrorism”, per se, he warns, as terrorists are “a shadowy bunch” who don’t live in one place and can relocate as fast as guerrilla warriors. “Jihadist terrorists” have a common ideology, but other terrorists do not. The goal of terrorists is not justice or money; it is reprisal, pure vengeance. Warring against terrorists will only swell the ranks of malcontents, who attack us from all points of the globe, and there is no one to sign a peace treaty or armistice; there is simply no end to a “war on terror”. He adds, “We blundered into Iraq, based on flawed intelligence, flawed assumptions and flawed judgments and ideologically driven motives”, and we appear ready to repeat those mistakes in Iran, and, tomorrow, our leaders may impel us into similar “wars” most anywhere else. The enemy isn’t Iraq or Iraqis; it is poverty, ignorance and the congenital hatred that these passions breed. Our war on terror only compounds those issues. Our occupation is wrong and futile. America cannot fix every problem in the world and should not try. We have “broken” Iraq in a sense, and, as Colin Powel said, “You break it; you own it.” We have created a huge dependent that we cannot afford to support. We have achieved neither democracy nor peace, and we have lost our credibility in the bargain.

The military and the defense manufacturers, of course, welcome war. He recalls Eisenhower’s (“Ike’s”) admonition in his farewell address that we should avoid giving “the military-industrial complex” undue influence, as they will always lead us into wars. Sadly, he notes that the 2008 budget provides $650 Billion for the Department of Defense and adds that the $12B in monthly expenditures on Iraq and Afghanistan are “off Budget”. Senator Hagel cautions that our “all volunteer army is undermanned” and that “universal military service [a draft] is inescapable.”

Securing (closing) our borders, shutting down immigration and curtailing exchange programs only isolates us further. “Fortress America” can no longer exist. Free trade agreements foster understanding, mutual respect and bring economic progress and mitigate the underlying problems of poverty and ignorance that make social unrest inevitable. Some 2.5 billion of the worlds’ 6.5 billion people have been left behind. Their problems are our problems, and we owe it to these fellow humans to help them, and, if we do not, our own security will be the price that we pay.

“We are living on borrowed money on borrowed time.” The U.S. cannot “print its way out of debt” forever. The longer we attempt to do this, the greater jeopardy befalls the world’s monetary system. Our $5 Trillion national debt is now primarily short term debt, and it’s 45% held by foreigners! If those foreigners decide not to place their cash in U.S. dollars, our dollar will take a tailspin like none in our recorded history, and our reckless spending will be forced to cease. Taxation is not the answer either. Even Jack Kennedy, he notes, was “a strong advocate of tax cuts” as he realized that private capital is the fuel of the free market engine.

Senator Hagel’s lucid, unemotional but caring commentary offers a devout patriot’s rational view of a world awash in strife, unrest and insecurity and entreats us to face the hard facts and change the errant ways (the wars, the overspending, and the attempts to homogenize the world in America’s likeness) that threaten the American society. He ends by quoting the sober words of Polonius in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” He gives us hope, but ever more so were this great American running for President now. I am indebted to Chuck Hagel, a long time friend and once business associate, who gave me his uplifting book. For those who care about America, or even the Western World, it is a Must Read.