Posted by: Sam Carson | 28 November, 2006

Cynical? Maybe, but its happened before…

This may be a rather cynical article, but not unmerited. After the appalling lack of resistance to the appointment of Justice Roberts, it will take more than the recent election to convince me, or Winslow T. Wheeler, that the Democrats will show any responsibility in the confirmation hearings.

Nieman Watchdog > Ask This > Any questions for Gates? (Part 1)

  • The issue is not what questions Senators might ask in confirmation hearings with Secretary of Defense designate Robert M. Gates but whether they will ask any real questions at all. If past is prologue, there will be few questions posed, and those that are asked will be both pro forma and unanswered.
  • Form over Substance: The Senate is steeped in tradition and ceremony, and no senator is a bigger devotee than the current – outgoing – chairman, John Warner (R-VA). He will start the hearing with a long “opening statement.” It will include a concerned but not graphic description of the unfolding disaster in Iraq, the need for a new strategy there, and a few polite words – but not too many – about Donald Rumsfeld.
  • We will then be subjected to an agonizingly long series of “opening statements” from each and every other senator. Most will strive prodigiously to make some sort of news that earns a few seconds of coverage in the evening’s TV news. Very probably, one winner will be Senator John McCain, (R–Ariz), calling for more troops to go to Iraq with some sharp rhetoric. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), will make news, or not, depending on her political calculation of whether or not she wants attention in connection with Gates’s nomination hearing.
  • All these opening statements will take about an hour or two. Then it will be Gates’s turn for his statement. Assuming he follows the advice given to all presidential nominees appearing before the Senate for confirmation, he will say absolutely nothing but he will appear very authoritative in doing so.
  • Then, the “questioning” will begin. Chairman Warner will be first. He will give what amounts to yet another opening statement. At the end of it he will pose a question, but it will be utterly predictable. The big issue is, of course, Iraq; he will ask something like “Will there be a new strategy?” (Note: he will not ask what the new strategy will be.) Having been told exactly what the question will be several days earlier, Gates will “answer” it: Everything is under consideration; he has spoken at length with the president; the goal is “victory,” but, no, he can’t talk to specifics (or to criteria, methods, parameters, conditions, factors, particulars, or prerequisites).
  • More Speeches: Having already explained themselves with their “opening statements,” the members will re-profess what they think is the most important national security issue in yet another speech. It will invariably take up virtually all of the senator’s allotted time. In some cases it will end in a question. In others, it will end with a request that Gates simply respond. The subject matter will vary from more on Iraq – such as another attempt to get Gates to say what he said he wouldn’t say – to why some defense program or facility in some senator’s state should be preserved for time immemorial.
  • An Actual Question? Somewhere along the line, some senator will ask an actual question without a five-paragraph preamble. It will, however, be read off, or summarized from, a staff memo. It may be a legalism about Gates’s involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, what parts of the U.S. can North Korea’s newest missile reach (if it were ever to work), or how many F-22’s would be needed to “win” against China (Saxby Chambliss again). In all cases, two things are sure to happen, or rather not: Gates will not provide a concrete answer, and the questioner will respond not with a follow-up question, but a new one – almost certainly entirely unrelated – that is again read off or summarized from a staff memo.
  • I hope I am wrong, especially regarding the Democrats. We already know from 12 years of experience from Republican control on this committee that one of Congress’s most important duties – oversight – has been deeply interred. It would be a welcome and important new development if the Democrats have awoken from their slumber, have disinterred a few investigative skills, and choose to ask real questions and extract meaningful answers.

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