Hagel to join Obama on trip to Middle East

Monday, July 14, 2008

OMAHA, Neb. -- Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel plans to accompany Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama on an upcoming trip to the Middle East, fueling speculation about the Nebraska politician's future.

Both senators have confirmed the summer trip to U.S. battlefronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will also include Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

"U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan are at the center of America's national security. These critical issues must be addressed in a bipartisan manner that builds consensus for a bipartisan American foreign policy," Hagel said Sunday.

Hagel served as an Army sergeant in Vietnam and was twice wounded in 1968, earning two Purple Hearts. Reed, a West Point graduate, was a former Army Ranger and paratrooper.

Each has been mentioned as a potential running mate for Obama.

"They're both experts on foreign policy," the Illinois senator said Saturday. "They reflect, I think, a traditional bipartisan wisdom when it comes to foreign policy. Neither of them are ideologues but try to get the facts right and make a determination about what's best for U.S. interests -- and they're good guys."

Hagel, a sharp GOP critic of the war in Iraq, has not endorsed Obama or Republican John McCain. And Hagel hasn't ruled out that possibility. He said last month that he would consider an offer from Obama, although he doesn't expect to be on the ticket.

"If it would occur, I would have to think about it," Hagel said. "I think anybody, anybody would have to consider it. Doesn't mean you'd do it, doesn't mean you'd accept it, could be too many gaps there, but you'd have to consider it, I mean, it's the only thing you could do. Why wouldn't you?"

Hagel was the only member of his party on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to support a nonbinding measure critical of Bush's decision to dispatch an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq.

"There is no strategy. This is a pingpong game with American lives," Hagel said at the time.

The rhetoric drew the public ire of Vice President Dick Cheney, who told Newsweek in January 2007 that Ronald Reagan's mantra to not speak ill of another Republican was sometimes hard to follow "where Chuck Hagel is involved."

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