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Republican Senator Criticizes Bush Administration Over Iraq


One vocal critic of the Bush administration is a member of the president's own party. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska says he worries about the United States getting bogged down in Iraq, and about what he sees as an unhealthy concentration of power in the presidency. The outspoken senator shared his views at a town hall meeting in Los Angeles.

Senator Hagel says he sometimes gets e-mails calling him a traitor. "One of the comments that I received lately was a very straightforward piece of advice, that is, 'Senator, shut your mouth. Do what the president tells you to do. That's why we elected you.'"

The senator reminded his listeners that the U.S. government has three equal partners, the legislature and the judiciary, in addition to the president and his administration.

The blunt words, he adds, are not what he hears from his fellow senators, but he admits that some Republican colleagues think he is out of line in his public statements. He repeated some of his criticisms in a meeting sponsored by the group Town Hall Los Angeles, held in the newly opened National Center for the Preservation of Democracy. He says progress in Iraq is up to the Iraqis.

"The United States represents the most significant stabilizing factor in Iraq and has for the last three years, but at the same time, we are probably the most destabilizing factor in Iraq. And that has to be sorted out, and that will be sorted out," he said. "And it goes back, it seems to me, to the Iraqi people, and will reside within the Iraqi government's decisions as to where they want to go."

Last month, Iraqis voted for members of their 275-member national assembly, which will select a president and two deputy presidents, who in turn will appoint a prime minister to run the government.

The debates over Iraq and U.S. presidential powers in the war on terrorism have highlighted tensions between the president and some members of Congress, most often Democrats. But on some issues, the critics also include Republicans. Senator Hagel sees this administration, like some before it, as asserting greater powers in its relations with Congress than the constitution grants it.

The most recent dispute concerns news leaks that the president authorized wiretapping of telephone calls between suspected terrorists and U.S. citizens without court approval. The White House says the president has the authority to authorize the wiretaps, and that they are necessary to protect American lives. Critics say the president does not have that power, and Mr. Hagel says he wants a hearing on the issue.

Recent opinion polls show some 58 percent of Americans are unhappy with the president's handling of Iraq, and some Democrats in Congress have seized upon the issue. Mr. Bush in turn has criticized Democrats for statements he says harm the morale of US troops, embolden insurgents and work against the Iraqis who are struggling to achieve democracy.

Among those in the audience was senior high school student Curtis Williams, who is more concerned with domestic than international matters. He asked about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, and left inner city residents without help for days.

"Why is there so much more help going on in Iraq than people needing it more in the US?" he asked. " Why is there more help going to them in Iraq?"

Senator Hagel agreed the government has failed to provide adequate help to the victims of hurricane Katrina, but said Congress and the president are cooperating in the effort to rebuild New Orleans.