Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What You Didn't Hear at the Gates Confirmation Hearing

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.


A Jacksonian said...

One of the most troubling things is the view that this is a "Long War" in conception. The Cold War ideal of stasis and supporting the concept of pushing liberty and freedom via economic channels produced an enemy that is not amenable to those channels via the means given in the Cold War. Transnational Terrorism evolved in that atmosphere and is comfortable in it and, indeed, flourished without the necessity of Nation State backing. There are Nation State backed terrorist organizations, but not all terrorist organizations are Nation State backed. FARC, Shining Path, ETA, the various IRAs, Jemaa Islamiya, Lashka-e-Toiba, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Islamic Jihad, Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda, GSPC and many, many others grew up as an interconnected system outside of normal Nation State operational parameters.

That said the 'normal' parameters are seen as 20th century post-WWII parameters typified by the Cold War. These enemies operate outside all parameters of the Cold War and existed comfortably within that environment. In a sense of diseases they are a strain not amenable to the anti-biotics of the Nation State in Defense, Diplomacy or Law Enforcement. These enemies will exist even without Iran, Syria and North Korea as there is an entire environment that was designed by the 'Long War' folks that cannot be defined by them. These nostrums put forth by those seeking solely 'Long War' terms of the 20th century have not changed their viewpoint that *other* forms of 'Long War' existed before the Cold War.

The Nation actually can change the parameters of its operation to encompass that sphere, but *not* on 20th century terms. That day is over and 'talking with our Enemies' is appeasement and giving reward to obstinacy and those seeking to spread power and influence. The means of inexpensive warfare are thsoe that brought WWII to a close: the most deaths and destruction for the least cost in the least time. That is how all of those interconnected groups view the world: use cheap arms and armaments to impose their viewpoint or kill those that disagree and destabilize their societies to further those aims.

The political class is blind to this formulation, even when clearly stated by those manuals captured from al Qaeda and other groups. Their aim is a methodology at odd-angles to the straightforward methodology of the Cold War and its environs.

The disease is the 20th century way of thinking and must be cut off there and other means and methods that are all perfectly legitimate and legal for the Nation to be applied. Those means and methods are supplied in the Constitution and it is the political class that must postulate this, not the Government. A 'Long War' on 20th century terms will get us all dead or enslaved to those playing a different game and willing to exploit its weaknesses. We can change our outlook on this struggle and find that we have strengths there which cannot be countered by these enemies. If we don't do that then we will end this struggle in defeat because we are unwilling to let go of a century responsible for more death and repression on a larger scale than was ever known by humanity heretofore.

If we don't let go we will be the last set of mass victims of that century and the last ones it claims, along with the ideals of personal liberty and freedom.

Kurmudge said...

I read the Gates responses as well, but saw wording to responses very carefully crafted to permit Dems to claim victory while not tying Gates' or Bush's hand at all. There is nothing at all there that prevents one from bombing Iran, or any other place, if necessary.

The most foolish thing any SecDef candidate could have done in the SASC hearings is telegraph military action. The best approach is to mouth fluffy platitudes the way Gates did. Bolten obviously prepared him well.