The Gates Confirmation Hearing: Congress Must Focus on DefenseEssentials
Job one for the Senate in the confirmation hearings for Robert
Gates as the next Secretary of Defense is to focus their
questioning on the Pentagon's near-term priorities. Gates must
concentrate his efforts where he can have the biggest impact on
ensuring America has the military it needs to deal with the
national security challenges of the 21st century.
The last years of any presidential administration provide scant
opportunity to impact the course of defense policies and programs.
Gates will face a particularly daunting task when he takes over the
Pentagon. Not only will he have little time to make a difference,
but many "hot button" issues will be competing for his attention.
The Secretary of Defense-designate and the Senate can make best use
of their time during the confirmation hearings by reaching
consensus on what issues have to come first.
Topics to Discuss
Prudent confirmation hearings must focus on the near-term issues
that can be addressed and that will have the greatest long-term
impact on national security. These should include:
- Developing consensus on Iraq policy: It is long past the
time for treating Iraq as an issue for partisan political debate.
The Pentagon's principal task in Iraq must be to prepare Iraqi
security forces to assume full responsibility soon for addressing
sectarian violence, the insurgency, and terrorism. This will entail
developing a solid plan for how the Pentagon can effectively
support the Iraqi forces and the Defense and Interior ministries
over the long term.
- Working with NATO in Afghanistan: NATO is struggling in
Afghanistan. As it ponders overly ambitious and unrealistic plans
to undertake nation-building, it is often unwilling to use the
military force necessary to take on the terrorists. With its
limited capacity and resolve, NATO could well fail in Afghanistan.
Active American engagement will encourage NATO forces to focus and
prioritize their efforts to match the strategy to the
- Getting the terrorists:The war on terrorism requires
employing all the instruments of national power, including
diplomatic, economic, intelligence, law enforcement, and political
tools as well as the force of arms. The Pentagon must commit to
working with other federal agencies and international partners.
Where it's needed, the military must have the right forces to root
out terrorist leaders, networks, and sanctuaries.
- Keeping missile defense going: Missile defense is
neither a subject for ideological debate nor a Defense Department
science experiment. It is an essential component of national
security in the 21st century. The task of the Pentagon and the
Senate is to recast the debate over missile defense, moving it from
partisan political bickering to practical discussion of the most
efficient and effective means to extend the deployment of missile
defenses for the United States and its allies. Proliferating
missile defenses is the free world's "ace in the pocket" against
rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea.
- Rebuilding America's military:The last half-decade has
inflicted much wear and tear on the armed forces. The last two
years of an administration will not be enough to refit and repair
equipment, modernize the force, and ensure a trained and ready
military is prepared for future missions. Defense budgets will need
to remain robust for at least a decade. The Senate and the Pentagon
must work together to make the case for sustained, robust defense
The Gates hearings offer an opportunity for the
Secretary-designate and the Senate to define together the
Pentagon's key short-term leadership challenges. It is an
opportunity that should not be missed.
James Jay Carafano,
Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security
and Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center
for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The