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Hagel: U.S. should pull out of 'mismanaged' Iraq

Story Highlights

• NEW: Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel urges U.S. pullout of Iraq
• The Vietnam vet writes U.S. "misunderstood, misread, misplanned" war
• Hagel's Washington Post Op-Ed says war based on "arrogant self-delusion"
• Bush prepares for talks this week with Iraqi Prime Minister in Jordan
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A leading Republican senator called Sunday for American troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq, declaring that a U.S. pullout is needed to head off "impending disaster" in the nearly 4-year-old war.

"There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq," Sen. Chuck Hagel wrote in Sunday's edition of The Washington Post.

Instead, he said, President Bush should use the upcoming report from a bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker to begin laying the groundwork for a "phased withdrawal" of U.S. troops.

"If the president fails to build a bipartisan foundation for an exit strategy, America will pay a high price for this blunder -- one that we will have difficulty recovering from in the years ahead," Hagel wrote.

"To squander this moment would be to squander future possibilities for the Middle East and the world. That is what is at stake over the next few months."

Hagel, of Nebraska, served in Vietnam as an infantry sergeant and is now the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Though he voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq, he has been an increasingly outspoken critic of the administration's management of the conflict. (Watch what's happening in Iraq on the eve of Bush's Jordan visit Video)

In Sunday editions of the newspaper, he wrote that the U.S. "misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam."

Op-Ed's notable timing

His broadside comes as Bush prepares for talks this week in Jordan with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and on the day the length of the war in Iraq matched the duration of U.S. involvement in World War II.

The Iraqi's U.S.-backed government has so far failed to quell the spread of sectarian violence, which has killed thousands of Iraqis, including more than 200 last Thursday alone in Baghdad's Shiite Muslim district of Sadr City.

U.S. commanders beefed up troop levels in Baghdad over the summer to help Iraqi police and soldiers restore security in the capital.

But Hagel said sending more U.S. troops -- as a frequent ally, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, has called for -- would not accomplish the goal of bolstering the weak Iraqi government.

"The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed," he wrote. "We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq.

"Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation -- regardless of our noble purpose."

Democratic congressional leaders have called for the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops as a way to pressure Iraqi leaders to reach a political settlement of the conflict.

But so far, only one other Republican senator -- Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island -- and a handful of GOP House members have called for the United States to leave Iraq.

Chafee, who also opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, lost his seat in the November 7 elections.

Bush has said he would keep U.S. troops in Iraq until al-Maliki's government is able to support itself. And the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, told Congress this month the American deployment in Iraq should remain at current levels.

But the Bush administration has stepped up its diplomatic efforts in recent weeks in the region. In addition to the planned Wednesday to Thursday summit with al-Maliki, Vice President Dick Cheney made a quick trip to Saudi Arabia over the weekend to consult with King Abdullah on regional issues.

Meanwhile, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was scheduled to go to Tehran on Monday for a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The planned meeting has raised alarms among some analysts, who see it as a sign of Iran's increasing influence in the region.

Most congressional Republicans continue to support the Bush administration's policy on Iraq.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" that phased withdrawal "sounds like we just want to leave without any plan to actually secure Iraq and allow the political processes to have any chance of working."

"It's not going to happen in the face of this kind of lawlessness. We're not talking about an open-ended commitment," said Cornyn, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We're talking about a temporary surge and get that basic security to allow the political institutions to work out their differences."

Cornyn said another 20,000 to 50,000 Americans should be sent to Iraq to help Iraqi leaders disarm sectarian militias.

But Sen. Jack Reed, another member of the Armed Services Committee, told CNN the administration needs to pressure al-Maliki to make "tough political decisions" and assert his authority over Iraq's armed factions.

"I think 20,000 extra troops would probably not be decisive in terms of changing the political dynamic and the security dynamic in Iraq," said Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island.

"And indeed, we'd have a very difficult time sustaining an additional 20,000 troops over, say, a year or more.

A third of our brigades in the United States are reporting 'non-deployable' because of personnel and equipment shortages," he said.


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Leading Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam vet, wants U.S. troops to leave Iraq, calling the war "misplanned, mismanaged."

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