CHICAGO, United States (AFP) — Leading Republican senator and Iraq war critic Chuck Hagel, who was considered a potential contender in the race for the presidency, announced plans to retire from politics Monday.
"I will not seek a third term in the United States Senate, nor do I intend to be a candidate for any office in 2008," the Nebraska senator told the Omaha Press Club.
"Public service has always been a big part of my life, and I hope to have another opportunity to serve my country in some new capacity down the road."
Hagel's departure means the minority Republican party will have to fight for another seat in the 2008 election.
While the Republican party is currently strong in Nebraska, Hagel warned that it could be a vigorous fight because the Democrats have won nine of the past 11 races for his seat.
"My colleagues in Washington talked to me about not retiring so we could hold this seat, but in the end I need to do what I think is right."
Hagel said he chose not to run for the presidency because it would take him away from his senate responsibilities at a critical time, "especially with regards to Iraq."
"I intend to be very engaged in this war debate over the next 16 months," he added.
Hagel, a decorated combat veteran who has branded President George W. Bush's Iraq troop surge strategy as the worst foreign policy blunder since Vietnam, said he was proud of his record in the Senate but that 12 years was enough.
"I have always believed that democracies work best when there is a constant cycle of new energy and ideas, and fresh leadership," he said as his wife and children stood next to him.
"I will leave the Senate with the same enthusiasm, sense of purpose and love of my country that I started with," he said, adding that he looks forward to the remaining 16 months of his term.
"I leave maybe a little wiser, surely a little more experienced and with a very respectable amount of humility."
Hagel, 60, was the president of a Nebraska investment banking firm prior to his election to the senate in 1996.
An infantry veteran wounded in Vietnam, Hagel was nominated by president Ronald Reagan in 1981 to serve as Deputy Administrator of the Veterans Administration.
He spent several years in the 1970's working as a newscaster and talk show host with local radio stations.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell praised Hagel as a solid conservative and patriot who served his constituents and his country well.
"Chuck Hagel is one of the few genuine foreign policy experts in the Senate and an independent, serious voice on many of the most challenging issues we face," McConnell said. "He will be missed."
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