I attended the latest Panetta Institute Lecture series in Monterey, Ca Monday. The webcast was broadcast live, but is apparently not available from the Institute website, and the transcript has not yet been posted. The Monterey Herald and Santa Cruz Sentinel reported on the pre-lecture press conference rather than the lecture itself.
There was no breaking news or earth shattering revelations in the event, but I found it to be a fascinating evening. For this post I am highlighting discussion points where I registered a mental note during the proceedings. Since I am relying on memory, all “quotations” are paraphrased (but not completely imaginary).
Panetta kicked it off by noting the continuing speculation about Chuck Hagel’s presidential ambitions and asking “So what the hell are you going to do Chuck?” to which Hagel replied “Well, I am sure as hell not going to tell you here.” Followed by the usual ” I need to talk this over with my family and make a decision over the next month … yadda yadda yadda.” He also waxed philosophical saying he never felt that his identity was tied to his job title, whether that is Senator or President, and didn’t feel a driving need to be President. To which I thought – that is exactly the kind of person we need as President. Others in the audience had a different reaction – overheard on the escalator after the lecture: “Hagel doesn’t have the fire in his belly to run for President.” The conversation moved into the “broken” presidential election process, with Chuck Hagel and former Senator Bob Graham (also a guest) repeating the “regional primary” plan they discussed earlier in the press conference linked above.
The news of the day was Karl Rove’s resignation. Panetta wondered whether the resignation could have an effect rehabilitating the last year of the Bush presidency. Graham was dismissive, saying it is just too late for this President to salvage his legacy. Hagel was more sanguine, saying that Rove and Gonzales are focal points for administration criticism and their resignations would open a door. He spun a scenario where Gonzales also resigns, Bush shifts strategy on Iraq in the fall, and gets a major piece of bi-partisan legislation through congress next year. That, he asserts would elevate the Bush legacy. While he professed no specific inside knowledge, he does expect this to be how the Bush presidency will play out over the next year.
The discussion segued into Iraq and comparisons to Vietnam, a topic I have explored on my blog from time to time. Hagel was most animated when talking about the damage done to our standing in the world, our force structure and the Army by the policies of this administration. He generally kept an even keel relaxing in the easy chair on the stage, but this topic got him going. This is where he sees a clear parallel to Vietnam and believes it will take years, and perhaps decades to undo the damage, as it did after Vietnam. He also offered some “inside baseball’ observations of an evolving administration strategy in Iraq. Pointing to continuing erosion of support in the Senate, the Petraeus Report next month, and trial balloons launched by SECDEF Robert Gates in a recent MTP interview, he sees the administration strategy in Iraq shifting by the end of the year.
Maybe there was some news in the event. I am always struck by how the perception of a news story is shaped by the crafting of a headline. Lets try it. This is excerpted from a longer post on my blog with a headline “Notes on Panetta Institute Lecture with Chuck Hagel”. I’ll try a punchier headline here. Does that make it news? Probably not.
Continued at Divided We Stand United We Fall.