Trump on 'Right Side' of Afghanistan War Debate, Former Obama Defense Secretary Says

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Former Secretary of Defense under Obama and Vietnam War veteran Chuck Hagel at a HillVets event said the Pentagon papers "conditioned" him to be skeptical of information the military disseminates during times of conflict. (Military.com photo/Dorothy Mills-Gregg)
Former Secretary of Defense under Obama and Vietnam War veteran Chuck Hagel at a HillVets event said the Pentagon papers "conditioned" him to be skeptical of information the military disseminates during times of conflict. (Military.com photo/Dorothy Mills-Gregg)

Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said President Donald Trump is listening to the public as he tries to find a way out of Afghanistan through a ceasefire with the Taliban.

The former U.S. senator from Nebraska addressed this issue and called the release on Monday of a trove of documents regarding the war in Afghanistan "unsurprising," but "pretty damning" in a HillVets discussion Tuesday.

"Politically, [Trump's] on the right side of this because that's where America is going to be," Hagel said. "I saw some comments from Republicans and Democrats that said, 'Get the hell out. What are we doing?'"

The Afghanistan papers, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act and released on Monday, showed Americans were lied to about how the country was doing in the Afghanistan war. Hagel said his experience as a soldier in the Vietnam War primed him to be skeptical.

"I was very much conditioned by the deceit and the lie that took 57,000 American lives," Hagel said. "Not understanding the war. Not understanding the people of Vietnam. Not understanding really what our purpose was. The confusion, the corruption, I saw it all in Vietnam. Up close."

Hagel served as defense secretary in the Obama administration from 2013 to 2015.

After Sept. 11, 2001, he said, there was no question about whether or not the United States should do something, but over time, he became skeptical and felt "Iraq was a complete disaster."

As a senator, Hagel voted to authorize the deployment of military force to Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks, and also voted in favor of war in Iraq in 2002. He continued to vote to fund operations in Afghanistan and Iraq throughout his tenure in the Senate, but did state in a 2011 interview that the fight in Afghanistan needed to "start winding down." He has since said on many occasions that the U.S. had to find a way out of the fight.

Hagel told HillVet CapCon attendees, "No one wants to tell their commander we're losing or that we've got problems."

He added that this means maybe there should be more discussions about the reality of command when it comes to winning a battle.

"It's going to sober up our senior military leaders, and I think that's good," Hagel said. "It certainly will sober up politicians."

He added those politicians will have a tendency to overreact and then shy away from involvement in future conflicts, which could be good.

"This story's going to be with us for a long time, but it had to come out," Hagel said. "Overall, I think it's a good thing, but it's going to be painful, especially for those families who lost their loved ones."

-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at dorothy.mills-gregg@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.

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