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Hagel and U.S. as 'world's bully' -- in context

Ex-Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) got into a back and forth with freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) over remarks Hagel made during an appearance on a call-in talk show on Al Jazeera.

The clip cited by Cruz has been making its way around conservative blogs over the past few days. In it, Hagel is asked about an emailed question from a viewer (in Georgia in the United States), who notes the perception that the U.S. is viewed as the “world’s bully.”

Here’s the clip and transcript of that:

EMAIL QUESTION: “Can the rest of the world be persuaded to give up their arsenal when the image of the U.S. is that of the world’s bully? Don’t we indeed need to change the perception and the reality before asking folks to lay down their arms (nuclear or otherwise)?

HAGEL: Well, her observation is a good one, and it’s relevant. Yes, to her question, and again I think that’s all part of leadership.

That’s where the clip cuts off. Cruz admonished Hagel during the hearing for not disagreeing with the emailer. In fact, Cruz concluded, Hagel “explicitly” agreed that the United States was the "world’s bully."

But there was more to what Hagel had to say.

The subject of the March 21, 2009 show -- two months after President Obama was sworn in to a first term -- was nuclear proliferation. Hagel believes, as Obama does, that the world, including the United States, should have fewer nuclear weapons.

Here’s a fuller clip from the show and the rest of what Hagel had to say, including the next question about the “perception” of the United States as the “world’s bully.”

Hagel blamed that “perception” on the Bush administration’s foreign policy. They “misplayed a lot of the great goodwill” the U.S. received after 9/11, Hagel said.

HAGEL: “…And again I think that all part of leadership. That’s why this must begin with the United States and Russia. Look, for example, what President Obama has done in the first two months he’s been in office. His Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, has met with the Russian Foreign Minister. She’s been in five regions of the world. The president of the United States is out of the United States now. He’ll be in different parts of the world over the next week. I think that is the beginning of, not just symbolism of reaching out, but, in fact, engaging, listening, finding common ground to build common interests based on consensus. We’re going to have differences. We will always have differences. But we should define our relationships based not on those differences but on our common interests.

HOST: “Well, I mean, that brings us to the new administration that is here in Washington. I think that perception of the United States being a bully in the world has come largely from what the previous administration has done.”

HAGEL: “Oh, I think that’s right. We are now in our unfortunately seventh and eighth years in two long wars. That’s not all America’s fault. Of course not. But I think this last administration misplayed a lot of the great goodwill that were [inaudible] to this country after the terrorist attacks on this country on Sept. 11, 2001. The fact is, the past is the past and we now move forward. Let’s try to get to high ground and fix some of these great problems and challenges for mankind. Working together, I believe we can do that.”