No one in Washington thinks there's any question about Robert Gates getting confirmed as Secretary of Defense. The hearings this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee are one of the capitol's purely ceremonial affairs: Gates is the ostensible reason for the get-together, but the real goal is to honor outgoing committee chairman John Warner who, it's worth remembering, for the past five years has presided over the Senate's oversight of the war in Iraq.
Only two committee members proffered any real questions on the first day of the confirmation hearings. The first was Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who simply asked the nominee what everyone wants to know: Would you support attacking Iran and Syria? Gates pretty much said no. Then Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., asked Gates if he believed that Iran wants nuclear weapons. Gates said yes, adding that in his view, the effort is largely driven by the need for a deterrent.
The rest of the hearing was simply embarrassing, with senators complimenting the US government for giving "sovereignty" back to Iraq, opining that not all Muslims were bad, and buffing up their bona fides for the 2008 presidential campaign.
What follows are a few questions senators should have asked Gates to make these hearings worthy of the name and could still raise in floor debate. But don't hold your breath.
- Why did the CIA fail to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union?
- What role did you have as a subordinate of CIA director William Casey in the Afghan war against the Soviets?
- Please tell us all the occasions since 1988 (under both Bush administrations) on which you were asked for advice on the Afghan and Iraqi wars and what advice you gave.
- In 1984 you wrote Casey that: "It is time to talk absolutely straight about Nicaragua," and added, "The Nicaraguan regime is steadily moving toward consolidation of a Marxist-Leninist government, and the establishment of a permanent and well-armed ally of the Soviet Union and Cuba on the mainland of the western hemisphere. Its avowed aim is to spread further revolution in the Americas." You said this was an "unacceptable" course and argued the U.S. should do everything "in its power short of invasion to put that regime out." Any hopes of causing that regime to reform itself for a more pluralistic government are "essentially silly and hopeless." With Daniel Ortega back in power, what should we do now? Does he now pose a threat to the western hemisphere? Are hopes for a pluralistic government still "essentially silly and hopeless"? Your views, please.
- In 1985 you wanted to "redraw the map of North Africa," advocating invading Libya with a force of 90,000 American soldiers, seizing half the country, and overthrowing Muamar Ghaddafi. On the basis of your advice, Casey ordered up a list of Libyan targets. Please explain your thinking on Libya.
- You have said that you first learned of the operation we now know as Iran-Contra when Eugene Hasenfus's plane was shot down over Nicaragua on October 5, 1986. If that is so, tell us about your meeting on October 1, 1985 with the CIA's National Intelligence Officer, Charles Allen, who told you of his suspicion funds were being diverted to the Contras. What action did you take when he told you this?
- Some of your former colleagues at the CIA allege that you played a role in politicizing intelligence at the agency, a claim you have long denied. Can you explain how a memo came to be drafted under your direction, based on information from one source, that alleged Soviet involvement in the papal assassination plot? Why did your cover note on this memo, which was sent to the president and the vice president, call this assessment a "comprehensive examination"?