Senate Confirms Gates as Defense Secretary

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Gates is the new Secretary of Defense
by David Stout

The 95-to-2 vote came a day after Mr. Gates won unanimous endorsement by the Senate Armed Services Committee after testifying that the United States was not winning in Iraq and that American failure there could ignite a regional conflagration in the Middle East.

Mr. Gates’s appearance before the panel won him broad support. Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island said just before the vote today that he was sure Mr. Gates would have a completely different management style from his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, in that he would be willing to listen to differing viewpoints, both from military officers and civilian aides. Mr. Gates will be sworn in on Dec. 18.

Today’s vote for Mr. Gates was in sharp contrast to the 1991 vote which confirmed him as head of the Central Intelligence Agency. Thirty-one senators, all Democrats, voted against him then, with many complaining that he had been less than forthcoming about his role in the Iran-contra affair.

Somewhat oddly, both negative votes today were case by Republicans: Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who was defeated in his re-election bid.

Speaking on the Senate floor after the vote, Mr. Santorum said he thought that Mr. Gates did not fully understand the dangers of Islamic fascism in the Middle East. He said that Iran and its client state of Syria were stirring violence in Iraq, and that the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation to engage Iran and Syria was a prescription for surrender.  (continued…)

     

Whatever lingering reservations remained about Mr. Gates seemed to evaporate with his appearance on Tuesday before the armed services panel. At one point in his committee testimony, Mr. Gates said it was too soon to tell whether the American invasion of 2003 had been a wise decision. He added: My greatest worry if we mishandle the next year or two and leave Iraq in chaos is that a variety of regional powers will become involved in Iraq, and we will have a regional conflict on our hands.

Mr. Gates gave few firm signals on Tuesday about his own favored options for Iraq, but portrayed himself as a flexible realist, open to all options for adjusting American strategy. But he made clear that he had concerns about a rapid military withdrawal, and said the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group would be important but not the last word.

It’s my impression that frankly there are no new ideas on Iraq, Mr. Gates said, pointing out that there are multiple other government reviews under way. The question is: Is there a way to put pieces of those different proposals together in a way that provides a way forward?

In 2003, Mr. Gates supported the administration’s decision to invade Iraq. In his testimony on Tuesday, however, he made clear that his operating style and approach would be in some respects different from those of Mr. Rumsfeld and his deputies, who have led the Defense Department for nearly six years. Mr. Gates expressed grave reservations about taking military action against Iran, an idea that the Bush administration has not ruled out in trying to halt its nuclear program.

I think that military action against Iran would be an absolute last resort, Mr. Gates said. I think that we have seen in Iraq that once war is unleashed, it becomes unpredictable. And I think that the consequences of a conflict, a military conflict, with Iran could be quite dramatic. And therefore, I would counsel against military action, except as a last resort.

Mr. Gates said he also opposed any attack on Syria, which the Bush administration has criticized, along with Iran, for contributing to the instability in Iraq.


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