Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel has the reputation of being something of a maverick within his own party, and he has never been particularly shy about voicing his disagreement with President Bush -- especially on the contentious issue of the war in Iraq.
So it isn't surprising that the outspoken senator from Nebraska has been grabbing more than his share of headlines lately. Hagel has become more vocal in his criticism of the president, from Bush's refusal to meet with antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan and the bungling of the Iraq war to the administration's ham-fisted diplomacy with the new Iranian regime.
The Washington Post reports that, in what is seen as a response to the burgeoning antiwar sentiment inspired by Cindy Sheehan, Dick Cheney gave a speech yesterday in which he declared that the "United States 'will not relent' in the war in Iraq and will hunt down insurgents there 'one at a time if necessary.'" Cheney's bravado was apparently aimed at rebutting the "escalating pressure on the Bush administration to bring the troops home."
But Hagel was having none of it. The senator was quoted from an appearance on CNN criticizing Bush's apparent lack of sensitivity: "I don't know that he met with her or other families prior, but I think the wise course of action, the compassionate course of action, the better course of action would have been to immediately invite her into the ranch."
Hagel also recently questioned Bush's policy in Iraq, taking a jab at Vice President Cheney's infamous assertion that the insurgency there was in its "last throes." Hagel, citing the increasing number of American servicemen killed, said, "If that's winning [the vice president's] got a different definition of winning than I do." And in an interview on Wednesday, Hagel dismissed Bush's saber rattling with respect to Iran as an "empty" and "foolish threat." Hagel went on to say that any military option concerning Iraq's neighbor was impractical, and that it would be far better to engage the new regime in Tehran. "I would start engaging with American face-to-face dialogue," Hagel said. "We're not at negotiations yet, but opening that dialogue. This is a process. This needs to work. Every side has to give something here."
Is Chuck Hagel becoming the Howard Dean of the Republican Party? Until now, Hagel has been critiquing American progress in Iraq, not demanding the immediate withdrawal of troops. So the comparison with Dean probably falls short. But another question remains: If Hagel feels this emboldened to take on Bush, are other Republicans willing to buck the administration close behind?