Give Robert Gates credit for willingness to acknowledge the obvious.
At the Senate Armed Services Committee's confirmation hearing for President Bush's nominee to replace consistently surreal Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin asked:"Do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?"
"No, sir," replied Gates.
Levin, the Democrat who next month will take over as chairman of the committee, praised Gates's admission that the war has not gone well "a necessary fresh breath of reality that is so needed."
Unfortunately, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency was not ready to fully embrace reality.
When asked how long he thought the U.S. would maintain a military presence in Iraq, Gates said there would have to be "some presence" in Iraq for "a long time."
That's not an encouraging stance, as Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy made clear in the most pointed questioning of the hearing. Kennedy, who voted against the nomination of Gates to head the CIA in 1991, has said he will keep an open mind about the current nomination, but he has correctly pointed out that "More of the same failed policy that depends on an open-ended commitment of our military will not bring America closer to victory. It will not stop the violence, and it will not protect our national security interests."
Perhaps the most meaningful questioning of the day came from West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, who asked whether Gates thought the measure that passed Congress empowering the President to respond to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or the 2002 resolution authorizing the President to use force against Iraq would empower Bush to attack Iran or Syria.
"To the best of my knowledge," Gates replied, "I do not believe so."
When Byrd asked the nominee whether a US attack on either Iran or Syria would intensify violence in Iraq and lead to more US deaths, Gates said, "Yes, sir, I think that's very likely."
Let's save the tape of that response.
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