Statement of Senator Carl Levin at the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on the Nomination of Robert Gates to be Secretary of Defense
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Mr. Chairman, I join you in welcoming Mr. Gates to the Committee. Mr. Gates, we appreciate your willingness to return to public life after a decade in the private sector. We also appreciate the support of your family. So many government positions require not only hard work and a commitment to public service, but also the support of ones family few more so than the position of Secretary of Defense.
If confirmed as Secretary of Defense, Mr. Gates will face the monumental challenge of picking up pieces from broken policies and mistaken priorities of the past few years.
First and foremost, this means addressing the ongoing crisis in Iraq. The situation in Iraq has been getting steadily worse, not better. Before the invasion of Iraq, we failed to plan to provide an adequate force for the occupation of the country or to plan for the aftermath of major combat operations. After we toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, we thoughtlessly disbanded the Iraqi Army and also disqualified tens of thousands of low level Baath Party members from future government employment. These actions contributed to the chaos and violence that followed and to alienating substantial portion of the Iraqi population. We have failed so far to secure the country and defeat the insurgency, we have failed to disarm the militias and create a viable Iraqi military or police force, we have failed to rebuild the economic infrastructure of the country and provide employment for the majority of Iraqis. The next Secretary of Defense will have to deal with the consequences of those failures.
And Iraq is not the only challenge that the next Secretary will face. He will also be faced by a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan; an unpredictable nuclear power in North Korea; an Iran that seems to be aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons and causing problems throughout the region; an Army and Marine Corps in need of tens of billions of dollars to replace and repair equipment that has been damaged and destroyed in the course of ongoing operations; the militarys non-deployed ground forces that have a declining level of readiness to meet their wartime missions; weapons programs that, despite the expenditure of more than a hundred billion dollars a year, are increasingly unaffordable; a military that faces constant challenge in recruiting and retaining the troops that it needs; military families suffering from the increased strains of repeated deployments and a sustained high operational tempo; and a Department whose image has been tarnished by the mistreatment of detainees in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere.
Despite these problems, the next Secretary of Defense will lead a military that is by far the most powerful in the world. Our Department of Defense not only has the most capable weapon systems ever deployed, but is blessed with an extraordinarily talented and committed military and civilian workforce.
Unfortunately, the Departments effectiveness has been reduced by a senior civilian leadership that has too often not welcomed differing views, whether from our uniformed military leaders, the intelligence community, the State Department, American allies, or Members of Congress of both political parties.
The next Secretary will have to work hard to heal these wounds and address the many problems facing the Department and the country. Success will require more than total commitment. It will require an individual who is creative, fair and open-minded, and above all an individual who can listen to, learn from, and work with others. It will also require an individual who is willing to speak truth to power and encourage others to do the same. Among other things, that means ensuring that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is able on his own behalf and on behalf of the other members of the Joint Chiefs and the combatant commanders to give unvarnished military advice to the Commander In Chief. The next Secretary will not only need to respect the Goldwater-Nichols law, which assures that such advice will be given directly to the President and the National Security Council; he will also need to respect that advice himself.
It is no secret that I voted against Mr. Gates nomination to be Director of Central Intelligence in 1991. I did so because I thought that he had been less than candid about the role that he played in the Iran-Contra affair.
As I have said before, however, I for one intend take a fresh and fair look at Mr. Gates record.
In that regard, I find many of Mr. Gates responses to the Committees pre-hearing policy to be reassuring. For example, Mr. Gates stated that two lessons we should learn from the war in Iraq are that war planning should be done with the understanding that the post-major combat phase of operations is critical, and that the intelligence community should not exaggerate its capabilities or minimize the uncertainty that plagues assessments. In those pre-hearing responses, he stated that there is no purely military solution in Iraq. He stated that we should not be afraid to engage in direct discussions with our adversaries as we did in the worst days of the cold war [when] the U.S. maintained a dialogue with Soviet Union and China. He assured the Committee that Department of Defense policies and actions relative to detainees must comply not only with the revised Army Field Manual on Interrogations, but also with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Last but not least, Mr. Gates stated that he will cooperate with Committee requests for information or documents and that he will comply with legislation requiring that known costs of ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan be funded through the normal budget process, rather than through emergency supplementals. These are all reassuring statements that he has made to this Committee.
I look forward to the testimony of our witness and again I thank him for his willingness to leave a job that he loves to undertake a heavy and demanding responsibility. I also want to thank Senators Dole and Boren, who were such deeply respected members of this body and whose endorsement of this nominee has significance for all of us.
Finally, this hearing has a special meaning for Members of this Committee, because it may well be Senator Warners last hearing as Chairman. Senator Warner has always chaired this Committee with unfailing fairness, dignity and civility, reflecting his passion for the security of our nation. His devotion to the well-being of our men and women in uniform who have dedicated their lives to the service of our country has been a hallmark of his chairmanship, as has the bipartisan way in which he has worked with all of us and our staffs. He has truly been one of the great chairmen of this Committee.