Amid the predictable softball questions directed at Robert Gates at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, it was only Robert Byrd, the elder statesman of the Senate, who cut to the chase.
When Byrd asked Gates if he supported an attack on Iran, Gates replied, "I think military action against Iran would be a last resort . Military consequences [could be] quite traumatic."
What about the likely consequences of a US attack on Iran, Byrd asked Gates. "While Iran cannot attack us directly militarily, their capacity to close off the Persian Gulf to exports of oil and to unleash a significant wave of terror in the Middle East, in Europe, and even here is very real."
An attack on Syria? "Syrian capacity to do harm to us is far more limited ."
Gates, prompted by Byrd, added that an attack on either Syria or Iran would lead to greater American casualties in Iraq. "I think that it would give rise to significantly greater anti-Americanism than we have seen to date. I think that it would immensely complicate our relationship with virtually every country in the region."
Byrd, possibly testing Gates to make sure he'll not simply be a shill for the administration, then asked the nominee who he believed was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. "Osama bin Laden," Gates responded quickly.