More seriously, given the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq, the Democratic leaders in Congress have to decide whether, if in confirming Gates, they are falling into a clever trap set for them by the Bush White House as some have begun to speculate.
If they confirm Gates in a pro forma fashion -- especially if he gives no hint that he will make any significant effort to persuade the President to change policy -- then this would mean for many voters that the Democrats have been suckered into becoming shareholders in the current policy. Surely, the White House would interpret a rubber stamp confirmation of Gates as a clear vote of confidence in its Iraq policy, whatever that is now.
If Gates had been a different person with a less controversial career and more of a record for independence, then the dilemma would not be as great for the Democratic leadership. In 1991, 31 Democratic Senators erred on the side of caution and voted against Gates to become CIA Director. At that time, the Soviet Union was vanishing from history. Today the stakes in Iraq and the Middle East are much greater.
Although many Democratic senators want to get rid of Rumsfeld so badly, and may not press Gates in the confirmation hearings, some senators desiring a higher comfort level probably will seek from him strong, compelling reasons to confirm him given his past and the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq. Those Democratic senators with Presidential aspirations will have to ponder the Gates nomination, if they want to distance themselves from the President's apparent preference for "stay the course" in Iraq
For his part, the main challenge for Gates may become quite similar to that which Kissinger faced during the Vietnam War: namely, the need to give the Democrats, the media and the public at large the impression that he is some kind of "Secret Good Guy" who once back in on the inside, can carry the cause of those growing numbers of Americans who are now highly skeptical of, if not outright opposed to, the continuation of the war. That is a tall order, requires a lot of trust and is now a difficult task made more difficult by the President's sweeping statements at the Jordan Summit, especially the remark that there will be no withdrawals until the mission is accomplished and there will be "no graceful exit from Iraq".
Lyle notes the above from Peter W. Dickson's "Robert Gates: Realist or Neo-Con?" (Consortium News).
Let's repeat, today on KPFA (airwaves and online, time given is Pacific):
KPFA Special Broadcast: Robert Gates Confirmation Hearing
Tuesday, December 5th, 06:00am
Live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Robert Gates Secretary of Defense confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. With Larry Bensky, Aaron Glantz and our guest experts.
You can also stream online at the Pacifica website and WBAI (or listen over the airwaves in the NY area, starting at 9:30 am EST). There's no registration to listen online, no commercial you have to hear first. Just click and, after buffering, the stream will begin. Gavel-to-gavel coverage and you won't get it from NPR.
This does matter, a great deal more than many seem to realize judging by the press coverage. It matters because Rummy's out and his replacement (who might not end up being Gates) will determine whether or not there will be a change from the administration or whether it will be more of the same. It matters because you'll get to see whether the voters response gives the Dems a spine or if they just roll over.
So, if you're able to, try to listen to the coverage today.
ADDED: Houston's KPFT will broadcast the hearings from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm their time (Central). KPFK in Los Angeles will broadcast the hearing from 6:00 am 3:00 pm (Pacific Time). KCFC in Fresono will broadcast the hearings at the same time as KPFA. You can listen over the airwaves if they are in your area and/or you can stream all online. Micah passed on the WBAI announcement yesterday (he heard it announced on Hugh Hamilton's show). Doug passed on about KPFT this morning (after this entry went up), Sandra passed on about KPFK and KCFC was an oversight on my part. (KPFB will also broadcast the hearings, same time as KPFA and KCFC.)
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peter w. dickson