Swanson: Live Blogging from Gates Hearing

Published: Thu 7 Dec 2006 10:17 PM
Live Blogging from Gates Hearing
By David Swanson
9:15 a.m. ET, 12/5/2006 -- The hearing hasn't started yet. Ray McGovern is sitting in the front row. If the questioning is lame, he and I will try to get everyone chanting "You won the elections! Now ask real questions!" unless one of you has a better chant idea. That's the best we've thought of on our own so far. Out on the street in front of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington DC, the World Can't Wait is protesting along with the Bush Chain Gang. I have a video camera, but anything I shoot won't be posted until tonight at the earliest.
9:45 a.m. Sen. John Warner, Chair of Senate Armed Services, introduced Gates, saying that he became director of the CIA after 21 witnesses produced 2500 pages of testimony and he was confirmed by the Senate. He then "served with distinction." Then Warner started bragging on his own military service. Now he's quoting his own recent muddled pseudo-tough words on Iraq: "no option off the table." To further clarify, he quoted Gen Peter Pace from yesterday: "We're not winning but we're not losing."
Warner plans a hearing at 9:30 on Thursday following Wednesday's release of the Baker-Hamilton plan to support the war before opposing it while supporting it. Warner urged the President to consult with Congress, even while using Bush's new euphemism: "the way forward." Warner refers to Gates as his longtime friend.
9:55 Carl Levin spoke next. Didn't say much, but did so at length. Praised Warner's service as chairman. Now, former Senator and Viagra salesman Bob Dole is speaking.
10:00 Wow, I nearly nodded off. Thank goodness for coffee.
10:10 Former Senator David Boren is speaking now about great bipartisanship of the good old days in the Senate. He supports Gates. Boren chaired the hearings in 1991 that confirmed Gates to direct CIA, and is apparently back to cover his, ahem, tracks. He, like Warner, is bragging about the numer of questions asked of witnesses, etc. It is "IMPERATIVE" that we achieve civility and bipartisanship (nevermind peace, justice, or honesty).
10:11 Warner just snuck in a vote to approve the nomination of a couple of judges. That was weird. Is that normal? What did that have to do with anything?
10:12 Now Gates is speaking.
10:15 Gates thanked Warner for having introduced him at his CIA confirmation hearing. Gates was a member of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq "Study Group" until November 8th. Gates is playing dumb. He'll consider all options. And even then, Bush is the one who will decide. At the same time, Gates stresses repeatedly how serious and historically significant and potentially more-catastrophic the Iraq mess is. Very short remarks: I almost like him for that.
10:19 Warner asked a series of standard-sounding questions about conflict of interest, etc. More or less as if Gates were trying to board an airplane.
Now, 6-min. round of questions.
Warner quoted Bush saying US troops would stay in Iraq until "mission completed." Asked Gates what that meant – what he thought Bush meant.
Gates said he thought Bush meant achieving "an Iraq that can defend, sustain, and govern itself."
Warner asked about recent incidents and who, effectively, is in charge in Baghdad. Gates answered with a very new sounding line: he professed total ignorance of the matter and then said that as we "ask the Iraqis to stand up, they will want to stand up on their own."
Warner asked about role of Dir. Of Natl. Intelligence and of CIA
Levin: Are we currently winning in Iraq?
Gates: No, Sir.
Levin: Maliki said crisis is political and ones that can stop it are the Iraqi politicians. Do you believe end to violence requires a political settlement and that we need to pressure the Iraqis to reach a settlement [oh, gawd]?
Gates: Yes, sir.
Levin: Bush has said we are going to stay as long as Iraqis ask us to be there. Doesn't that leave it our responsibility rather than theirs.
Gates: I haven't spoken with the Prez re those remarks. It seems to me US is going to have to have some presence in Iraq for a long time. Iraqi forces have no logistical ability or air power. …could be with a dramatically smaller number of forces. I don't think President's remark implies the level of force we have now for the indefinite future [rather, a smaller force for the indefinite future]
Levin asked about comments George Schultz made about Gates when Gates was deputy at CIA under Casey.
Gates replied thatShultz didn't get along with Casey. …we disagreed on developments in the Soviet Union. Sometimes he was right. Sometimes we were right. Sometimes we were wrong also. [You don't say! HERE'S AN OPENING FOR A SERIOUS QUESTION, SEN. LEVIN]
10:39 Now McCain is up, asking if we had insufficient troops in Iraq.
Gates: yes.
McCain: Now we need to reduce? When did we go from not having enough troops to having sufficient and having too many?
Gates: We (ISG) asked commanders and they said they had enough troops.
McCain: Then you should have asked: "Then why is the situation continuing to deteriorate?"
McCain [went on before getting an answer]: Don't we need to increase the size of the Army?
Gates: I'm very open to that.
McCain: Gen Zinni said you can't put pressure on a wounded guy. He didn't think and I don't think the Iraqis are capable of creating stability. Unless we [WE, not the people who live in and own that country, which is not ours] need to stabilize Iraq.
10:45 Kennedy [oh please let him ask a real question!]: We have lost 60 soldiers in Massachusetts. I've talked to just about all of them. [after they died?] Our military has served in Iraq longer than WWII. Families want a policy worthy of their valor. [Could you be more vague? What policy IS that?]
Kennedy quoted Bush to effect we're staying indefinitely. Asked Gates: Should we believe you or the Prez that changes will be made?
Gates: I will be independent, but there is still only one president of the United States.
10:52 Sen. James Inhofe (I think) asking more lame questions.
[OK, I'm starting to wish I could communicate to Ray who's across the room -- and to wish i didn't have a computer and camera with me.]
Byrd is up! [Come on!! Ask something!!] Do you support an attack on Iran due to its nuclear weapons program or its support of terrorism?
Gates: Military action against Iran would be an absolute last resort. Our first option should be diplomacy and working with our allies to deal with the problems that arise. We have seen in Iraq that once war is unleashed it becomes unpredictable?
Byrd: Do you support an attack on Syria?
Gates: No, Sir.
Byrd: Do you believe the Prez has the authority under either the 9-11 or Iraq recolutions to attack Iran or Syria?
Gates: To the best of my knowledge I do not believe so.
Byrd: Would you briefly describe the likely consequences of an attack on Iran?
Gates: They could close off the Persian Gulf to exports of oil. They could unleash a significant wave of terror in the M East and Europe. They are certainly not being helpful in Iraq, but I think they could do a lot more to hurt our effort in Iraq. They could provide chemical and biol. Weapons to terrorist groups. They could get Hezbollah to further destabilize Lebanon.
[Come on, Senator, ask the man about his past!!]
Byrd: What about an attack on Syria?
Gates: I think the Syrian capacity to do harm to us is far more limited, but an attack on Syria would have dramatic impact for us in our relationships in the ME – would give rise to anti-Americanism. [Would it – oh – I don't know – KILL ANYBODY?]
Byrd: Would an attack on either Iran or Syria increase violence in Iraq and lead to more American casualties?
Gates: Yes, very likely.
Byrd: 5 years after 9-11 Osama bin Laden is still on the loose. Who is responsible for the 9-11 attacks, Saddam Hussein or OBL?
Gates: OBL
Byrd: Who has represented the greater threat to the US?
Gates: OBL
Byrd: How do you intend to catch OBL?
Gates: I have no doubt our forces have been trying to catch OBL. I think though that he has become more of a symbol than an active organizer of attacks. Its important to continue the search, but his ability to plan attacks like 9-11 is very limited now. It' simportant to keep him on the run…. Eventually one of his own people will turn him in.
Byrd: What is wrong with our current tactics that have allowed OBL to escape for 5 years?
Gates: I will find out what we've done.
11:10 Pat Roberts will now waste some oxygen.
Roberts has a domino theory: If we leave Iraq "precipitously" what happens in Iran, Syria, Israel, Korea, Russia…? Roberts says this is what ordinary Americans and their pocket books can relate to. [Huh?]
Gates: I agree. If we leave, regional powers will get involved. Iran. Possibly Syria. [No mention of Saudis.] Instead mentions: "other Sunni Countries, Turkey, Saudi Aradia [OK, he said it], Hezbollah, etc… [this is sort of the minor-key domino theory].
11:16 Sen. Lieberman (D., RNC) is up and praising Gates. You want to succeed, not withdraw, right?
Gates: Yes Suh! And I'll blame the Iraqis. [This is good:] How are they going to share the oil revenues fairly so that everyone has a stake in the society? [uh huh. Alaska has a model that moves in that direction if you're interested.]... This long war on terrorism could go on for a generation. We need a bipartisan consensus so that there is consistency – whoever is elected president in 2008. [Hillary has left the room, or she'd be nodding.]
[There are two uniformed police officers standing against the wall over by where Ray is sitting.]
11:27 Sen. Jeff Sessions: You're great. Tell us how great you are please.
Gates: very great, sir.
[This event is to a confirmation hearing what presidential nominating conventions are to meaningful elections.]
These are the remaining Democrats who could conceivably ask a useful question:
Jack Reed (Rhode Island)
Daniel K. Akaka (Hawaii)
Bill Nelson (Florida)
E. Benjamin Nelson (Nebraska)
Mark Dayton (Minnesota)
Evan Bayh (Indiana)
Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York)
OK, scratch Hillary, and scratch Reed: he's speaking now. OK, I'm going to either reach Ray or leave.
This from earlier today on Democracy Now!
Robert Gates's Former CIA Branch Chief and a CIA Analyst Who Testified Against Him on the Politicization of Intel During Iran-Contra
Robert Gates, President Bush's nominee to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense is facing his Senate confirmation hearings today. We speak with two former CIA analysts who worked with Gates at the Agency. Ray McGovern was Gates's CIA branch chief in the early 1970s and Jennifer Glaudemans is a former CIA analyst who was asked to testify at the 1991
confirmation hearings for Gates when he had been nominated to be CIA Director.

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