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December 5, 2006
That Was Quick

Robert Gates made a bungee appearance at the Senate Armed Forces Committee today for his confirmation hearings to replace Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Some expected the hearings to provide some fireworks and an opportunity for grandstanding -- but in the end, it looks like all sides just wanted to get it done quickly:

Robert M. Gates, President Bush’s nominee to be defense secretary, won unanimous approval today from a Senate panel 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.

At one point, Mr. Gates said it was “too soon to tell” whether the American invasion in 2003 had been a good idea. 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 is expected to win confirmation from the full Senate as early as Wednesday to succeed Donald H. Rumsfeld. At the daylong hearing of the Senate Armed Services committee, Democrats and Republicans praised what they called Mr. Gates’s refreshing candor.

Mr. Gates gave few firm signals today 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 has concerns about a rapid American drawdown, and cautioned that the recommendations to be made public on Wednesday by 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, noting there are multiple government reviews underway besides the Iraq Study Group. “The question is: is there a way to put pieces of those different proposals together in a way that provides a way forward?”

The unanimous approval seems very surprising. The Democrats just won the midterm elections on the promise to challenge the Bush administration on Iraq, and this confirmation hearing gave them the best opportunity to start. Instead of making a pre-majority splash by demanding policy changes or by forcing Gates to endure a party-line vote, Democrats gave him a complete pass.

It's not to say that Democrats passively monitored the proceedings. Carl Levin, who will chair the committee in the next session of Congress, got Gates to state that the US was not winning in Iraq. That conflicts with what Bush said in October, when he said "Absolutely, we're winning," but Gates added that we're not losing, either. He promised that he would come to the Pentagon as his own man, with no debts to anyone else, but that at the end of the day, the United States only has one President. He will carry out the decisions of the Commander-in-Chief.

The unanimous endorsement points to a quick confirmation in the Senate. It may not even require a roll call vote, perhaps passing by acclamation. The Democrats have apparantly decided to keep their powder dry on this nomination, perhaps hoping that the speedy departure of Rumsfeld will help build some bipartisan communication on security matters between Congress and the White House.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 5, 2006 8:10 PM

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» That Was Quick from Bill's Bites
Gates Wins Unanimous Senate Committee Approval as Defense Secretary WASHINGTON — Robert Gates, President Bush's nominee for defense secretary, won unanimous approval Tuesday from the Senate Armed Services Committee, forwarding the nomination to the f... [Read More]

Tracked on December 5, 2006 9:49 PM

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Thank you for your coffee, seignor. I shall miss that when we leave Casablanca. ~ Ingrid Bergman ... [Read More]

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