In December, the â€œconventional wisdomâ€ was that Bush would bend
to the troop-drawdown recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study
Group and that Gates â€“ as a former member of the ISG â€“ would guide the
President toward disengagement from Iraq.
But in rushing Gatesâ€™s
nomination through with only pro forma hearings, the Democrats
sacrificed a rare opportunity to demand answers from the Bush
administration about its war policy at a time when the White House
wanted something from the Democrats, i.e. the quick confirmation of
At minimum, the Democrats could have used an extended
confirmation hearing to explore, in detail, Gatesâ€™s views about the
military challenges in the Middle East and ascertain what he knew about
Bushâ€™s future plans.
They also could have taken time to examine
exactly who Gates is, whether he is the right man to oversee the
complex conflicts in the Middle East, and what his real record was in
handling regional issues in the past.
Gates allegedly played
important but still-secret roles in controversial U.S. policies toward
Iran and Iraq in the 1980s. In addition, former CIA officers have
criticized Gates for â€œpoliticizingâ€ the CIAâ€™s intelligence analysis as
a top CIA official in the 1980s.
Some of the CIA institutional
and personnel changes that Gates implemented led to the CIAâ€™s
malleability in the face of White House pressure over Iraqâ€™s supposed
weapons of mass destruction in 2002-03, former CIA officials said. [See
Consortiumnews.com's "The Secret World of Robert Gates.
was Gates a closet neoconservative ideologue hiding behind Boy Scout
looks and mild manners? Or was he more a yes man who would bend to the
will of his superiors? His record could be interpreted either way. [See
Consortiumnews.com's "Robert Gates: Realist or Neo-con?
But the Democrats politely evaded these thorny questions.
Senate Armed Services Committee also could have called Rumsfeld to
explain his Nov. 6 memo which contained recommendations for U.S. troop
redeployments similar to those suggested by Rep. John Murtha,
D-Pennsylvania. Two days after that memo was sent to Bush, the
President fired Rumsfeld and replaced him with Gates.
Democrats could have demanded that Rumsfeld explain what had led to his
change in thinking and whether his â€œgoing wobblyâ€ was the precipitating
fact in his firing. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Gates Hearing Has New
By extending the hearings a few days, they also could
have asked Rumsfeld and Gates about the Iraq Study Groupâ€™s
Under White House pressure, Senate Armed
Services Committee chairman John Warner, R-Virginia, scheduled Gatesâ€™s
one-day hearing the day before former Secretary of State James Baker
and former Rep. Lee Hamilton released the ISGâ€™s report listing 79
recommendations to address the "grave and deteriorating" situation in
Though then still in the Senate minority, committee
Democrats had the power to demand fuller hearings. But they were
desperate to demonstrate their bipartisanship and their generosity in
victory, extending Bush an olive branch and hoping that Bush would
respond in kind.
Immediately after the perfunctory hearing,
Gates got unanimous approval from the Armed Services Committee and the
next day won confirmation from the full Senate. He was opposed by only
two right-wing Republican senators.
In the seven weeks since
then, itâ€™s become clear that Bush bamboozled the Democrats again. The
â€œconventional wisdomâ€ of early December turned out to be all wrong.
dashed the Democratsâ€™ hopes for a bipartisan strategy on Iraq by
unceremoniously junking the Baker-Hamilton recommendations.
of moving to drawdown U.S. forces, he chose to escalate by adding more
than 20,000 new troops. Instead of negotiating with Iran and Syria as
the ISG wanted, Bush sent aircraft carrier strike groups to the region
and authorized the killing of Iranian agents inside Iraq.
of building on the bipartisan approach of the Iraq Study Group, Bush
pronounced himself the â€œdecision-makerâ€ and signaled his surrogates to
step up accusations that the Democrats were aiding and abetting the
For his part, Gates has shown
his thanks to the Democrats for his cakewalk confirmation by speeding
up deployment of the new troops even as Democrats struggle to fashion a
non-binding resolution opposing the escalation.
Gates also picked up Bushâ€™s favorite cudgel to pound the Democrats for supposedly helping the enemy.
indication of flagging will in the United States gives encouragement to
those folks,â€ Gates told reporters at the Pentagon on Jan. 26. â€œIâ€™m
sure that thatâ€™s not the intent behind the resolutions, but I think it
may be the effect.â€
Now, as Bush rushes more troops to Iraq, the
Democrats are left to debate whether the non-binding resolution on the
â€œsurgeâ€ should refer to it as an â€œescalationâ€ or, as some Republicans
would prefer, an â€œaugmentation.â€
Though vowing stronger action
in the future, many Democrats already have ruled out blocking new funds
for the war because that would open them to more accusations of
disloyalty. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has taken impeachment â€œoff the
So, the Democrats are again learning a hard lesson
they should have mastered years ago, that this breed of Republicans
views Democrats as suckers who can be easily seduced with a few sweet
but empty words like â€œbipartisanshipâ€ and â€œcomity.â€
the Democrats voluntarily sacrificed a golden opportunity to use the
Gates nomination to force an examination of Bushâ€™s war strategy. At
that moment, they held real leverage over the administration to get
documents and other needed information.
Instead, they engaged in wishful thinking, opted to be nice and are now finding what their gestures of bipartisanship got them.
[To see Consortiumnews.com's new archive on Gates-related articles, click here