Dec 05 2006

Senator Graham Questioning of Robert Gates, Nominee for Secretary of Defense

Senate Armed Services Committee

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to add my voice to many others who have praised you for your leadership. I've really enjoyed being on this committee and you've made it a real pleasure to serve here. Dr. Gates, thank you for your willingness to serve. It looks like we're going to be working together for at least a couple more years. Things are going pretty well for you right now. Iran, do you believe the Iranians are trying to acquire lethal weapons capability? ROBERT GATES: Yes, sir, I do. GRAHAM: Do you think the president of Iran is lying when he says he's not? GATES: Yes, sir. GRAHAM: Do you believe the Iranians would consider using that nuclear weapons capability against the nation of Israel? GATES: I don't know that they would do that, Senator. I think that the risks for them, obviously, are enormously high. I think that they see value. GRAHAM: If I may? GATES: Yes, sir. GRAHAM: The president of Iran has publicly disavowed the existence of the Holocaust, has publicly stated that he would like to wipe Israel off the map. Do you think he's kidding? GATES: No, I don't think he's kidding, but I think there are, in fact, higher powers in Iran than he, than the president. And I think that, while they are certainly pressing, in my opinion, for nuclear capability, I think that they would see it in the first instance as a deterrent. They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons: Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west and us in the Persian Gulf. GRAHAM: Can you assure the Israelis that they will not attack Israel with a nuclear weapon if they acquire one? GATES: No, sir, I don't think that anybody can provide that assurance. GRAHAM: Is Iraq the central battlefront in the war on terror? GATES: I think that it is one of the central fronts in the war on terror? GRAHAM: What would be the others? GATES: I think that what we have seen since the destruction of Afghanistan or since the destruction of the Taliban regime is a metastasized terror threat from the jihadists, where indigenous radicals in countries like Britain, like Spain and like the United States are in fact planning terrorists operations and activities. So I think that while Iraq certainly is an important front in the war on terror and particularly now that all these other bad actors are there that I indicated -- described earlier -- I think we face a more disbursed threat that's really a very amorphous kind of second front. GRAHAM: Would a loss in Iraq in terms of a failed state affect the war on terror? GATES: I think it would create the conditions where you could have a replication of what happened in Afghanistan, and yes, it could be. GRAHAM: Why is Al Qaida in Iraq? What do they fear? Why are they fighting in Iraq? What is their goal? GATES: I'm no expert on it, Senator, but I believe that they would -- they are very eager to see us leave the region -- not just Iraq, but leave the region... GRAHAM: Are they threatened by democracy? GATES: Absolutely. GRAHAM: Is it the terrorists' worst nightmare for a democratic state to be formed in Iraq where a woman can have her say about her children and people of religious differences can live together under the rule of law? GATES: I certainly hope it's one of their worst nightmares. GRAHAM: Well, according to them, it is. Now, do you believe the terrorist Al Qaida goal and other terrorist organizations, to expand on what you said, includes not only driving us out of Iraq but the region? GATES: Yes, sir. GRAHAM: Do you believe it includes toppling of all moderate regimes in the region? GATES: Yes, sir. GRAHAM: All regimes that are unfaithful to their view of religion? GATES: Yes, sir. GRAHAM: Do you believe it is the ultimate destruction of the state of Israel? GATES: Yes, sir. GRAHAM: Do you believe in the Powell doctrine? GATES: I am very familiar with it, and I would say... GRAHAM: Do you believe in it or not? GATES: Well, sir there are different -- there are eight elements to the Powell doctrine. GRAHAM: Well, let me sum up the one: You go to war with overwhelming force. GATES: Yes, sir. GRAHAM: Do you believe we have the overwhelming force we need to do all the missions required of us to bring about a democracy in Iraq at this point in time? GATES: I need to talk to the commanders to find that out. GRAHAM: The jobs assigned to the military leadership commanders would include, do you agree, eventually trying to disarm the militia because you can't have a democracy with armed religious and political parties. GATES: Yes, sir. GRAHAM: Do you also believe it includes training the Iraqi army. GATES: Yes, sir. GRAHAM: Do you believe it includes rebuilding the police force, because I think it's a miserable failure and we need to start over, virtually. GATES: It's not entirely clear to me, Senator, that that should be the responsibility of the Department of Defense. But we have -- as best I can tell, the department has that responsibility now. GRAHAM: To provide security for economic development – 40 percent of all money spent on economic development projects now are security-related. That would be one mission of a military commander in Iraq, to give security to the economic development, to get this country up and running? GATES: Yes, sir. GRAHAM: Is there any doubt in your mind that the current level of troops are overwhelming when it comes to fulfilling all those missions, including defeating the insurgents? Could you honestly tell this committee and this country that the number of troops we have to do all the jobs I've described, including defeating the insurgents, is overwhelming? GATES: No, sir, I do not believe it is overwhelming. GRAHAM: If we redeploy to a friendly country, under these circumstances, do you think it's likely that the terrorist organizations that we've just talked about would come after us in that country, trying to prove to the American people there is no safe place for you in this region? GATES: Probably so. GRAHAM: Do you believe, if we set timetables or a policy to withdraw at a date certain, it would be seen by the extremists as a sign of weakness; the moderates would be disheartened and it would create a tremendous impediment to the moderate forces coming forward in Iraq? GATES: I think a specific timetable would give – would essentially tell them how long they have to wait until we're gone. GRAHAM: Thank you.