Image: Chuck Hagel
Chip Somodevilla  /  Getty Images file
Republican Senator Chuck Hagel opposed last year's troop surge in Iraq, but has acknowledged it brought positive changes in the region.
updated 7/25/2008 11:27:50 AM ET 2008-07-25T15:27:50

Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, fresh from an Iraq trip with Democrat Barack Obama, said the presidential candidates should focus on the war's future and stop arguing over the success of last year's troop surge.

Hagel mentioned both candidates, but his comments seemed directed at Republican John McCain. McCain, while Obama traveled the Middle East, attacked Obama for opposing the military escalation last year that increased security in Iraq.

"Quit talking about, 'Did the surge work or not work,' or, 'Did you vote for this or support this,'" Hagel said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.

"Get out of that. We're done with that. How are we going to project forward?" the Nebraska senator said. "What are we going to do for the next four years to protect the interest of America and our allies and restructure a new order in the world. ... That's what America needs to hear from these two candidates. And that's where I am."

Potential V.P. for Obama
Hagel, too, opposed the troop increase strategy, though he acknowledged Thursday it brought about positive changes. "When you flood the zone with superior American military firepower, and you put 30,000 of the world's best troops in a country, there's going to be a result there," Hagel said.

Whether the surge worked, though, can't be measured, Hagel said, arguing the small gains came at a high price. He said President Bush's decision last year to dispatch an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq has cost more than 1,000 American lives and billions of dollars.

Though Hagel is a Republican, his name has been floated as a potential vice presidential running mate for Obama. Like McCain, he is a Vietnam war veteran, but Hagel is a fierce critic of the war in Iraq. He has said he would consider running with Obama on the Democratic ticket but that he doesn't expect to be asked. He is not running for reelection.

Hagel joined Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island in traveling with Obama to the Middle East. Reed said the trip was productive. "It wasn't just a photo op and social chit chat," Reed said in a telephone interview.

Reed said the group pressed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to have the Iraqi government do more.

"Unless the government of Iraq can start delivering — delivering jobs, delivering funds, performing — then the gains that have been made will be quickly erased," Reed said. "I think that is a point that we all stressed, particularly Senator Obama, with the prime minister."


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Video: McCain dismisses Obama's Iraq plan


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