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Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) on the GOP Ticket

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Profile: Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.)


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Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2000; 2:45 p.m. EDT

Before Texas Gov. George W. Bush announced his vice presidential choice, speculation over who would be the running mate focused on several promising Republicans. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) was a favorite of many who kept a close eye on the selection process -- a smart freshman senator from a fairly conservative state with experience both in business and the administrative side of politics, and a Vietnam War veteran.

Hagel (File photo)

Hagel, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, has become a key advocate for the Bush campaign, and with his experience on the Senate Commerce Committee focusing on telecommunications and trade, he is a likely candidate for a Cabinet position in a Bush-Cheney administration. Hagel was online to talk about the GOP ticket, the Republican convention and Campaign 2000 on Wednesday, Aug. 2. The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Free Media: Good afternoon, Sen. Hagel, and welcome. What do you think is Gov. Bush's best foreign policy position? What does he need to rethink?

Sen. Chuck Hagel: Governor Bush is going to have to define clearly coherently a foreign policy for America that is relevant to the challenges of our time. This will include trade policy, national security and all elements of a foreign policy that define America's role in the world.

Council on Foreign Relations, New Haven, Conn.: Sen. Hagel, Could you please discuss the prospects for granting Fast Track trade negotiating authority and how these prospects might depend on the outcome of the election.
Philip I. Levy, Associate Professor
Department of Economics
Yale University

Sen. Chuck Hagel: I'm very disappointed that President Clinton has squandered six years of trade policy. He has been without fast track trade authority since 1994. I would hope that fast track and other important trade issues are part of the Presidential debate this year.

Council on Foreign Relations, New York, NY: How would a Bush/Cheney administration's policy differ from that of a Clinton administration with regard to balancing open trade and human rights in China?

Sen. Chuck Hagel: A Bush/Cheney policy toward China would encompass all of the many dynamics of a relationship that include human rights, trade, geopolitical positions, Asian security issues and all other parts of a foreign policy -- not just one or two issues.

Boston, Mass.: With regard to Gov. Bush's trade policy, what is the issue you feel the Democrats have most mis-characterized and that you most want to correct?

Sen. Chuck Hagel: I think the irresponsible hollowing out of our national defense capabilities is one of the most glaring deficiencies of this administration. At the same time, Clinton/Gore have portrayed their support of national defense and our military in a very dishonest way. Every year of the Clinton/Gore Administration they have cut at least eight percent of the Defense Department budget. This will need immediate attention from a President Bush.

Free Media: What do you see as the biggest threat to our national security? Terrorism? Chemical or biological weapons? Economic collapse in developing countries? What is Gov. Bush's plan to deal with such threats?

Sen. Chuck Hagel: All of the threats mentioned are real threats, not only to America but all nations of the world. But the most basic threat to the world is instability, which results in conflict and war at a time when terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are far too prevalent in the world today.

Council on Foreign Relations, Boston, MA: There has been some sense on trade, on security issues, and on some others that the E.U. and the U.S. are drifting apart and if anything, that process seems to be accelerating. Looking down the road, what do you think U.S. policy ought to be?

Sen. Chuck Hagel: Of course there will be differences among our trading partners on specific products and services. That is why the World Trade Organization is such an important forum to resolve trade differences without allowing those differences to deterioriate into trade wars, which hurt everyone.

San Rafael, Calif.: I'm concerning about the weakening of this country's military forces and the low morale of our troops. What is Gov. Bush's plan concerning the various "peace keeping" forces strewn throughout the world. If elected president, will he begin bring those troops home?

Sen. Chuck Hagel: Governor Bush has said that one of the first things he would do as President is ask his Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State for an assessment on where our troops are stationed abroad, why they are there, and how do they fit in to the national interests and foreign policy of our country.

Washington, D.C.: President Clinton is expected to decide in the coming weeks or months whether or not to allow the "letting" of contracts to build an X-Band Radar in Alaska to support a National Missile Defense system.

Do you hope that President Clinton will postpone a decision on missile defense, generally, and building this radar, specifically, until next year, so that (potentially) President Bush could undertake a larger, more comprehensive architecture?

Sen. Chuck Hagel: I was the first United States Senator to suggest exactly that, so I agree.

New York, N.Y.: Do you feel that the U.S. should send American troops into situations like Kosovo or Africa? What do you think the role of our military should be?

Sen. Chuck Hagel: The role of our U.S. military is to defend the vital national interests of this country.

Washington, D.C.: I'm confused by all the talk about rebuilding America and rebuilding the military. I understand the military has been reduced dramatically, but since when are we falling apart? Particularly to the point of needing to be rebuilt?

Sen. Chuck Hagel: What the public does not yet see is the very measurable deterioration of our force structure. This is measured in terms of recruitment, retention and readiness problems. The morale of our troops is as low as it has been since the days of Jimmy Carter. That is a result, partly, of Clinton/Gore's sending our troops out on more deployments and longer deployments by far than any previous administration. It is a very serious problem. Without people you have no force structure, without force structure, you have no national defense.

Free Media: That was our last question today for Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). Thanks so much to Sen. Hagel, and to everyone who joined us.

Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-Fla.) continues the discussion on the Bush-Cheney ticket and foreign policy today at 3:30 p.m. EDT.

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