Hagel believes that a breakthrough of understanding with some of the most recalcitrant dictatorships in the world is always one earnest conversation away. So, he wanted to talk directly to Hamas, Assad, and the mullahs. The correctness of this policy impulse is non-falsifiable because if it doesn’t work, its failure is attributed to insufficient effort on our part. If only we talked more and backed Israel less.
There is much to be said for Hagel’s warnings prior to the Iraq War that the conflict would have unintended consequences. So it did — horrifying ones. But, at the end of the day, Hagel voted for the war. Then, he opposed the surge as “the most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.”
This combination makes him either a gutless dove or a foolish hawk, or maybe a little of both. If the war is a historic mistake, don’t vote to authorize it. If you have voted to authorize it, don’t oppose the one way to save it from becoming an utter fiasco.