A tip of the hat to John Hinderaker at Powerline, who notes a glaring omission during yesterday's confirmation love-fest between Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates, and members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. As part of the confirmation process, Mr. Gates provided written responses to questions on a wide range of military-related issues, including the Iran's geopolitical intentions, and the growing military threat posed by China. Unfortunately, Mr. Gates' answers generated no follow-up questions during his appearance on Tuesday, making one wonder if anyone on the committee--senators or staffers--actually bothered to read the questionnaire.
Indeed, Dana Milbank's account of the hearing (in today's Washington Post) suggests a committee that was largely going through the motions. When Mr. Gates told Michigan's Carl Levin that the U.S. is not "winning" in Iraq," and that he is "open to all options," well, that was all the committee needed to hear. Smiles all around, and a ringing endorsement from the senators, who, in Milbank's words, viewed Gates as "a prophet [who] came forth to deliver us from the war in Babylon."
Fortunately, there are a few analysts who have bothered to read Mr. Gates response to the questionnaire, and they find his answers troubling, in several respects. On the issue of Iran, Gates was asked about his recommendation to "negotiate" with Tehran (in an effort to help stabilize Iraq) and how to deal with other areas of concern, namely the Iranian nuclear program. Thomas Joscelyn of The Claremont Institute finds Gates' response to be only "marginally better" than his previous writings on the topic.
On a related note, there was an exchange during the hearing that Claremont's Seth Leibsohn finds absolutely astounding. Gates was asked by South Carolina's Lindsey Graham whether Iran would actually use nuclear weapons against Israel. His reply? "I don't know if they would do that, Senator." When Graham reminded Mr. Gates of comments from Iran's president that Israel should be "wiped off the map," the nominee opined that "there are higher powers in Iran" who might view nuclear weapons are more of a deterrent.
Mr. Liebsohn believes that Gates is underestimating Iranian rhetoric and intent, and I tend to agree. However, Gates' views are consistent with his cohorts on the Iraq Study Group, who are pressing for "engagement" with Tehran, to help facilitate our exit from Iraq.
We'll be taking an expanded look at Mr. Gates' questionnaire response in a future post. Given the pressing challenges facing our military (in Iraq and elsewhere), his answers deserve more than the cursory look afforded by the Senate.