After a foreign policy speech in Washington focusing on Iraq, Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel hinted to NBC that he is considering an option to enter the 2008 presidential race as an independent.
Hagel said he will, "wait and see." But added that he has not ruled anything out, "the option is still open" he said for an independent candidate.
Last week Hagel told Bloomberg's Al Hunt that, "I don't ever foreclose any options." And Hagel said to Hunt that he will decide in the next few months whether to run for a third Senate term, pursue the presidency or leave politics altogether. He also told Bloomberg an independent bid "is possible."
On Iraq, speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations today, Hagel said September is "almost a self imposed kind of a deadline" for political progress in Iraq before congressional support for the war starts to fade. But he said in terms of the emergency supplemental budget for the war,"I don't like the idea of half the money now, half the money later."
Hagel said his Republican colleagues have been conveying the deadline message to the White House.
Saying that democrats have pushed the politics of the war, Hagel said he has never believed "when men and women are dying" that a war can be calculated as a "political issue,"
He said that the Iraq war cannot be evaluated on a "partisan position." "I get this all the time" Hagel said, adding that some say, "I am not a loyal Republican... I am not even a patriot... how can I not support my party on the war?" He said, "Well its not a party war, it's a war."
Hagel and Senator Gordon Smith, R-Ore., were the only two Republicans to vote for the Democrats' war funding bill that included a timeline for troop withdrawals. Hagel said his concerns about the Iraqi government's leadership decided his vote. "I don't know if Maliki has the ability to get this done," he said of the Iraqi leader. "Unless they find some center of gravity there through some leadership, then the chaos that will continue to ensue will be very very difficult to stop." Hagel said that chaos could lead to a regional Sunni/Shia conflict "that could very well get out of hand," if not controlled.
On May 1st, President Bush vetoed the Iraq spending bill because of the withdrawal timelines.
Joel Seidman is an NBC producer based in Washington.