Opening Statement Nomination Hearing of Robert M. Gates

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I am pleased to have before the Committee this morning Doctor Robert M. Gates, who has been nominated for the position of Secretary of Defense.

We welcome Doctor Gates, and we thank him for his willingness to serve in this new capacity.

Doctor Gates has a long and distinguished record of service to the nation. After establishing a firm educational foundation at the College of William & Mary, he served in the Air Force from 1966 through 1969. Doctor Gates then joined the Central Intelligence Agency where he spent over 26 years as an intelligence professional, including a period of nearly 9 years assigned to the National Security Council.

Doctor Gates served as Deputy Director of the CIA from 1986 until 1989, and, subsequently, as Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor from 1989 until early November 1991. Dr. Gates was nominated by President George H. W. Bush, to be the 15th Director of the CIA in June 1991.

In September and October 1991, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence under the leadership of Senator David Boren and Senator Frank Murkowski conducted hearings on Doctor Gates’ nomination to be the Director of Central Intelligence. The Committee took the testimony of some 21 witnesses, compiled a record of over 2,500 pages of testimony, and, favorably reported Doctor Gates’ nomination to the full Senate. On November 5, 1991, Doctor Gates was confirmed by the Senate and served with distinction throughout the remainder of former President Bush's term.

During the Senate Floor debate on Doctor Gates’ nomination, on November 4, 1991, I complimented Senator Boren on the thoroughness of his Committee's work and expressed my support for the nomination. I stated at the time, "Bob Gates is a very thoughtful man, an honest man, an experienced official, a good analyst, a no-nonsense manager, and a man with a vision of the future direction of the role of U.S. intelligence." I reiterate those comments in the context of this nomination.

I would note that Doctor Gates’ additional experience in government and the private sector since his departure from the CIA in 1993, and his continuing academic and scholarly pursuits have enhanced his qualifications to perform the duties of the Secretary of Defense.

Dr. Gates, I'd like to address for a few moments the challenges that you will face if you are confirmed. From 1969 to 1974, I had the privilege of serving in the Department of the Navy under three Secretaries of Defense, and subsequently, I have had the opportunity to work as a member of this Committee with each of the nine men who have held this position for a total of 11 Secretaries of Defense.

Upon returning from my 8th visit to Iraq with Senator Levin in early October of this year, I said: "But I assure you in 2 or 3 months, if this thing hasn't come to fruition, and if this level of violence is not under control and that if the government under Prime Minister Maliki is not able to function, then it's the responsibility of our government, internally, to determine: Is there a change of course that we should take, and I wouldn't take any option off the table at this time." I further observed that the situation was drifting sideways.

Regrettably, the levels of violence have continued to escalate, and the ability of Prime Minister Maliki and his government to exercise fully the reins of sovereignty remains an enormous challenge.

I was present yesterday at an open forum when General Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was asked: "Are we winning the war?" His response was, "We're not winning, but we're not losing." It seems to me that the situation I observed on my trip is much the same today.

I commend the President who, for the past 2 months, has directed the appropriate Cabinet officers to perform a complete review and asked them to apply their best judgment in determining the way ahead in Iraq. Further, he has met with and indicated that he looks forward to receiving the Baker - Hamilton report.

The Iraq Study Group, of which you were a member, will formally present its findings and recommendations tomorrow. The ISG's work, in my opinion, will represent an important contribution to this broad review, and I commend the members for their public service.

Additionally, General Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has an ongoing review, pursuant to his role under statute, in which he is exploring all options and will continue to provide his best advice to the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Congress.

Most importantly, however, the American people expressed their judgment on November 7th that change is needed. The President has responded and stated that he desires to obtain "fresh eyes" on the situation in Iraq. Your prompt nomination confirms that desire.

Likewise, the Committee will continue to look at every option. Senator Levin and I have written to the Iraq Study Group and asked them to testify before the Committee this Thursday.

After the President has had the opportunity to review these important reports, I respectfully recommend that he privately consult with the bipartisan leadership of the new Congress before making his final decisions. It is my hope that the Executive and Legislative branches will formulate a bipartisan consensus on the way forward.

To me, this fulfills the moral obligation that our Government has to the brave men and women of the Armed Forces and their families, who have sacrificed so very, very much in this fight for freedom.

Dr. Gates, let me remind you of your own words from your book "From the Shadows" about the duty of those who serve in the Executive Branch to keep the Congress informed in a timely and candid manner: "I sat in the Situation Room in secret meetings for nearly twenty years under five Presidents, and all I can say is that some awfully crazy schemes might well have been approved had everyone present not known and expected hard questions, debate, and criticism from the Hill..."

Secondly, from the same book: "And when, on a few occasions, Congress was kept in the dark, and such schemes did proceed, it was nearly always to the lasting regret of the Presidents involved. Working with the Congress was never easy for Presidents, but then, under the Constitution, it wasn't supposed to be. I saw too many in the White House forget that."

I urge you to pursue your responsibilities in a manner consistent with these salient observations as you undertake the duties of the Secretary of Defense.

You have been nominated for one of the most important positions in Government. If confirmed, you will be an important part of that review process. I urge you not to restrict your advice or your personal opinions regarding the current — and future — evaluations of strategies.

In short, you simply have to be fearless in discharging your statutory obligations as the "principal assistant to the President in all matters relating to the Department of Defense."

I now call upon Senator Levin for his opening statement.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).