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Confirmation Hearings Begin for Robert Gates


From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Mike Pesca, sitting in for Alex Chadwick.

This week out of Washington, we'll hear what lawmakers want for Iraq.

Coming up on DAY TO DAY, what a father wants for the country where his son died fighting.

BRAND: First, to Washington, where Robert Gates was questioned by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Gates is President Bush's nominee to be the next defense secretary. He said the Pentagon's current Iraq strategy is not working.

Dr. ROBERT GATES (Nominee, United States Secretary of Defense; Former CIA Deputy Director): Our course over the next year or two will determine whether the American and Iraqi people and the next president of the United States will face a slowly but steadily improving situation in Iraq and in the region, or will face the very real risk and possible reality of a regional conflagration.

BRAND: NPR's Guy Raz is at the hearing.

Hi, Guy.

GUY RAZ: Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, does this look like an easy confirmation for Gates?

RAZ: I think so. I mean, the Senate Armed Services Committee can be called an anybody but Rumsfeld crowd. And I think Robert Gates will walk out of this hearing room smiling - the chairman, the outgoing chairman of this committee, John Warner, the senator from Virginia, essentially suggesting to colleagues that they try to wrap it up by the end of the day.

And at one point, Senator John McCain, the Republican from Arizona, called Robert Gates' secretary, offering his congratulations and his condolences, which certainly got a chuckle out of the crowd there, because, of course, Robert Gates is taking on what is probably the most impossible job in Washington - if not in the United States today.

BRAND: Right. And that would be trying to figure out a new strategy for Iraq, and the focus of this hearing clearly on Iraq, and let's hear more of what Gates had to say.

Dr. GATES: So I guess the bottom line is that I believe that he wants me to take a fresh look, and that all options are on the table.

RAZ: Now, that is essentially the crux of what Gates was saying today - all options are on the table. He says he's open to every possibility. And in the next few days and weeks, he will be presented with some of those options. The Iraq Study Group is going to be presenting its findings. This is the study group chaired by the former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton - that bipartisan group.

They're going to be presenting their options and their suggestions for what should be done to regain the upper hand in Iraq - essentially, Gates today admitting that the United States is not winning in Iraq, which was an answer to a question posed in by Carl Levin, the senator from Michigan - Levin, essentially, saying look, I appreciate your candor, and I look forward to working with you. Levin, by the way, voted against Robert Gates in 1991 when Gates was up for the head of the CIA. Today, it seems fairly clear that Bob Gates is going to be confirmed by a majority, if not the entire Senate.

BRAND: And he was also questioned about whether or not he would be independent of the man who nominated him, President Bush. Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts posed the question. And Gates said he wasn't going to be, quote, “a bump on a log.”

Dr. GATES: I intend to listen closely to people. I intend to draw my own conclusions, and I'll make my recommendations. But I can assure you that I don't owe anybody anything.

RAZ: And, essentially, the reason why he's saying that is because the underlying feeling among members of this committee is that Don Rumsfeld wasn't necessarily being given the right information by his generals, and perhaps, not really approaching the Iraq issue with a fresh eye.

And Robert Gates, at one point, even eluded to the tension, the ongoing tension between the State Department and the Defense Department - essentially saying look, you can't fight a war successfully if you have an interagency war in the United States.

So what he's basically trying to convey to this committee is that he is going to listen to the generals on the ground, the commanders. And he's going to give the president unvarnished advice about what to do in Iraq, which, essentially, today - he was admitting - is just simply not going well.

BRAND: NPR's Guy Raz, joining us from the Gates hearings in Washington.

Thank you, Guy.

RAZ: Thank you, Madeleine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).
Guy Raz
Guy Raz is an independent producer who has been described by the New York Times as "one of the most popular podcasters in history."