Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Notes and Quotes From Gates Hearings

Robert Gates received approval from the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday on his nomination to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense and will proceed to a full Senate confirmation vote. This will likely happen as soon as Wednesday's Senate session.

Here's some interesting notes from Tuesday's Senate hearingsā€¦

The closest thing to a bombshell came when Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) asked the nominee point-blank "Mr. Gates, do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?"

"No, sir," came the blunt response from Gates, thus totally contradicting everything that's come out of George W. Bush's mouth on the subject in 2006.

In case anyone was unclear on what Gates meant -- which White House Spokesman Tony Snow clearly was when he tried to talk around the Defense nominee later in the day -- John McCain (R-AZ) picked up the question during his time with Gates.
McCain: I'd like to follow on what Senator Levin said. We are not winning the war in Iraq; is that correct?

Gates: That is my view -- yes, sir.

McCain: And, therefore, status quo is not acceptable?

Gates: That is correct, sir.
Lindsey Graham (R-SC) got another useful piece of information when he asked Gates "Is Iraq the central battlefront in the war on terror?"

"I think that it is one of the central fronts in the war on terror," said Gates, sounding more like Russ Feingold (D-WI) than Bush.

Feingold has been talking for years about all the other trouble spots we should be watching, while Bush and his team tell anyone who will listen that Iraq is the focus of the entire effort.

* * * * *
Levin gave a good introductory statement to his questions for Gates:
"If confirmed as secretary of defense, Robert Gates will face the monumental challenge of picking up the pieces from broken policies and mistaken priorities in the past few years.

"First and foremost, this means addressing the ongoing crisis in Iraq. The situation in Iraq has been getting steadily worse, not better. Before the invasion of Iraq, we failed to plan to provide an adequate force for the occupation of the country, or to plan for the aftermath of major combat operations.

"After we toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, we thoughtlessly disbanded the Iraqi army and also disqualified tens of thousands of low-level Baath Party members from future government employment.

"These actions contributed to the chaos and violence that followed, and to alienating substantial portions of the Iraqi population.

"We have failed, so far, to secure the country and defeat the insurgency. And we have failed to disarm the militias and create a viable Iraqi military or police force. And we have failed to rebuild the economic infrastructure of the country and provide employment for the majority of Iraqis.

"The next secretary of defense will have to deal with the consequences of those failures."
* * * * *
Here's a comforting bit of clarification, based on a question from Robert Byrd (D-WV), showing some acknowledgement from Gates that Bush's authority has limits:
Byrd: Do you believe the president has the authority, under either the 9/11 war resolution or the Iraq war resolution, to attack Iran or to attack Syria?

Gates: To the best of my knowledge of both of those authorizations, I don't believe so.

Byrd: Would you say that an attack on either Iran or Syria would worsen the violence in Iraq and lead to greater American casualties?

Gates: Yes, sir, I think that's very likely.
* * * * *
Ted Kennedy (D-MA) gave a good opening statement -- here's an excerpt:
"We know, since you have been nominated now -- 59 Americans have been killed just in the 27 days since you've been nominated.

"In the 27 days just prior to that, 92 Americans were killed. And in the 27 days prior to that, 81 Americans were killed.

"We don't know in the 27 days prior to the first of the year, when we're going to have these, evidently, decisions and judgments and a new policy, how many more Americans are killed.

"And the people, the families, in my state want to know whether you're going to be that figure that Senator Warner talked about, that fearless champion of the service men and women that is going to be consistent with our national security."
* * * * *
Bill Nelson (D-FL) broached the touchy subject of renewing a military draft:
Nelson: Now, you say, then, that we can meet our recruiting goals without a draft. Explain that to the committee.

Gates: Well, sir, I think that the first encouraging aspect statistically, based on the limited exposure I've had, is the great success we've had in retention in the services. So we don't have a hole in the bottom of the bucket of much consequence.

My impression is that the Army was authorized to add an additional 30,000 troops and that they have recruited, I think, 23,000, or thereabouts, of that 30,000.

I would tell you, my candid opinion is that I think once -- one of the military officers that I was talking to told me that one of the concerns that he had about recruitment was that first we'd lost the moms and now we were starting to lose the dads in terms of encouraging young people to join the services.
Obvious statement of the day by Gates on meeting recruiting goals: "In all honesty, I think that when people perceive that joining the services is not a direct ticket to Iraq, our opportunities for increasing the numbers are going to be significant."

* * * * *
Levin and many of the Senators thanked Gates for his forthrightness and candor during the hearings. Here's Levin:
"Your acknowledgement that we're not winning in Iraq, frankly, is a necessary, refreshing breath of reality that is so needed if we're going to look at ways of changing course in Iraq to maximize the chances of success. I thank you for that and the other candid responses that you've given here."
And I'll let my own Senator, Hillary Clinton (D-NY), wrap up with her comments on candor before the committee:
"Your candor to this committee, to the American people, and especially to our men and women in uniform, is crucial to our success. We need a strong secretary of defense -- but that doesn't mean strong- headed.

"And I appreciate your openness and willingness to engage with this committee today.

"Part of that candor was evident when you responded to Senator Levin's question about whether we are winning the war in Iraq, contrary to what your predecessor told us from that very chair and what the president has told the American people."
We'll end with Clinton's parting slap at Donald Rumsfeld that she gave when thanking Gates: "Dr. Gates, thank you for your candor. That's something that has been sorely lacking from the current occupant in the position that you seek to hold."