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CNN NEWSROOM

Gates Confirmation Hearing

Aired December 5, 2006 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: You are in THE CNN NEWSROOM.
Good morning, everyone.

I'm Tony Harris.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, good morning, everybody.

I'm Betty Nguyen.

For the next three hours, watch events happen live right here on this Tuesday, the 5th day of December.

Here's what's on the rundown for you.

Robert Gates in front of Congress this hour. Confirmation hearings for the man the president wants to run-the Pentagon. We have exclusive coverage.

HARRIS: A former spy poisoned -- our Dr. Sanjay Gupta shows us the anatomy of a cold war style murder.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody.

I'm Heidi Collins aboard the Intrepid, Pier 86 on the Hudson River.

Today is moving day.

But the question remains, will she or won't she?

She's been stuck in the same spot for 29 days. Find out whether she budges in THE NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: The future of Iraq -- the command of the Pentagon, high stakes at play this hour as lawmakers begin their questioning of Robert Gates. He is the president's choice to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. CNN is rolling out its big guns for the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing -- Wolf Blitzer in Washington, Nic Robertson in Baghdad, Suzanne Malveaux at the White House and Barbara Starr watching developments at the Pentagon.

Let's begin in Baghdad. Gunmen opened fire on a bus, car bombs rip a neighborhood. Dozens dead and wounded in a bloody backdrop to today's confirmation hearing.

CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Iraq's capital -- Nic, good morning to you.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Tony.

A very bloody day here. So far 55 people killed in attacks throughout the city. The very latest attack we're just getting details of, a car bombing. Two people killed, seven wounded.

A little earlier in the afternoon, about 2:30 here, an Iraqi National Police Training Academy was attacked with a suicide car bomb. Fifteen people confirmed killed in that attack so far.

Earlier in the day, a triple car bombing outside a gas station south of Baghdad. That attack killed 14 people, wounded 25. And earlier in the day, about 8:30 in the morning, a bus carrying Shia workers from the Shia Endowment Trust here -- that's a group that looks after mosques and Shia religious affairs -- was attacked with a car bomb and gunmen. We're told that nine people were wounded, 15 killed in that particular attack.

This whole backdrop bringing many Iraqis here to some startling conclusions. In a survey done for the government here recently, half the people in the country would like to see U.S. troops leave immediately. Of the remainder, another half would want a withdrawal to start immediately. Ninety-five percent of the country feels less safe than they did under Saddam Hussein.

And what a lot of people here say they're really hoping for is that now that Democrats have won more power in the mid-term elections, they would like to see them exercise that power and change U.S. policy here, giving more -- giving security services in Iraq more power and asking U.S. troops to leave -- Tony.

HARRIS: Nic, that begs the follow-up. It's something that will be discussed at the confirmation hearing today for Robert Gates.

Are Iraqi troops anywhere near ready to take responsibility for their country's security?

ROBERTSON: It's a very mixed bag, Tony. I've just been to a press conference given by Major General William Caldwell, the chief spokesman here. He predicts that by the summer of next year, all the Iraqi Army divisions will have taken control of what he calls their battle space in Iraq, which means the Iraqi Army will lead operations with the assistance of U.S. advisers. And troops can be brought in on different missions.

But the situation now, he paints a picture where 70 percent of the Iraqi Army divisions are in control of their battle spaces around the country, that those three more prov -- three more regions will be ready by the summer of next year.

But the picture that he paints of increasing the training and mentoring capacity of U.S. troops to help the Iraqi troops is stymied by a lack of translators, is a work in progress, at the moment; that some parts of the Iraqi military are better than others. But the assessment is that by summer of next year, all the Iraqi Army will control all the areas in Iraq. And by the fall of next year, the Iraqi government will control all the provinces here, Tony, he said.

HARRIS: OK.

Just a couple of other quick notes. Maybe this cuts to the poll question, maybe a poll question.

Do most Iraqis support the idea of Iraqi forces taking a lead role in securing the country?

ROBERTSON: It's very interesting, they do.

It may seem counter-intuitive that pulling out U.S. troops, in the assessment of many Iraqis here, will make their lives safer. But over two thirds said that if U.S. troops, they think they will be safer. They think that Iraqi forces have a better way of dealing with the Iraqi people, understand them better, and this is one of the complaints of the government here.

They say our forces can actually do the job better, give the power and control to us. But at the same time, the government here is also saying, and Major General Caldwell made the point, as well, that the Iraqi government says that it lacks a lot of the heavy weapons that it needs to fight the war here.

The fight was assessed in the past that the police would just need Kalashnikovs, the Army barely more than that.

Now, the assessment is that they're going to need heavy weapons to take on the militias, who are armed with heavy weapons, as well -- Tony.

HARRIS: OK, Nic Robertson for us in Baghdad.

Nic, appreciate it, as always.

Thank you.

NGUYEN: Well, considering the situation in Iraq, all eyes are on today's Senate confirmation hearings dealing with Robert Gates, wanting to replace Donald Rumsfeld for the position of defense secretary.

Let's check in with CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

What are folks at the Pentagon wanting to hear from Gates today -- Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Betty, all eyes, indeed, are on Capitol Hill. That hearing expected to start within the half hour.

Mr. Gates is likely to get a very friendly reception from the Senate Armed Services Committee. There seems to be a growing feeling he will be readily confirmed. People seem to just want to get on with it.

What the military will be looking for is any signs about Robert Gates' thinking about what to do next in Iraq.

There's every indication that Gates will sidestep any specific recommendations at this point.

Of course, tomorrow the Iraq Study Group makes its recommendations to President Bush and Gates will not want to get in front of that. He is most likely to continue to say all options are on the table. It is known that he believes that there is not a pure military solution to Iraq, that diplomacy and economic development are essential, and that he opposes any early specific deadline for troop withdrawal, saying that might lead to chaos in Iraq and in the region.

But we, of course, have just returned from traveling in Iraq with General Abizaid, the top military commander. And some of these options are beginning to sort out on the ground.

As Nic was just saying, there is a growing anticipation that the U.S. will accelerate the turn over of security to Iraqi forces in some of the more peaceful provinces, that they will speed up that turn over, that they will make every effort now to double the size of training teams, get those translators in, do more training, more mentoring, more advisory assistance to the Iraqi forces.

But still, top U.S. commanders are very leery of any specific time line for withdrawal from Iraq. Betty, they say it all still really has to depend on conditions on the ground -- Betty.

NGUYEN: And that's been the case for a while now.

Barbara Starr, thank you for that.

HARRIS: And let's get the view from the White House now.

CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is at her post this morning -- and Suzanne, there was this go get them moment this morning between the president and his nominee.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And, Tony, it started really early this morning, before 7:00. President Bush hosting Robert Gates here at the White House for a very brief breakfast and then a short photo-op.

The president really bringing before the cameras to make a couple of points. First and foremost, that he is qualified for the job, outlining his credentials. And then secondly, of course, making the point here that we are in a country that is at war and during this time, time is of the essence, that he wants this confirmation process to go as quickly as possible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those who wear the uniform know they'll have a friend in Bob Gates in the Defense Department. He admires our military. He respects those who have volunteered to serve our country. He is -- he's going to do an excellent job for us.

Again, Bob, I thank you for agreeing to serve.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: Thanks, Mr. President.

BUSH: The best of luck up there on Capitol Hill.

GATES: Thank you very much.

BUSH: Good luck to you.

GATES: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And, Tony, the hope and certainly what the White House is counting on is that this process is going to go very rapidly. They need this position filled as quickly as possible. The president making that point this morning.

Also stung by the realization, the new reality, if you will, with Democrats in charge come January, that they don't always get what they want. They lost that battle with the U.S. -- U.N. U.S. ambassador, of course, John Bolton. Both the White House and Bolton conceding yesterday he just didn't have the support and the votes to move forward. The White House in a very difficult position of quickly trying to find a replacement for him -- Tony.

HARRIS: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House for us.

Suzanne, as always, thank you.

Let's bring in our Wolf Blitzer.

An opportunity to bring Wolf in this morning to set the stage for us for this morning's confirmation hearing -- and, Wolf, President Bush says he wants Robert Gates to provide him with a fresh perspective on the war in Iraq.

But how much do we really know about what Robert Gates thinks about the war in Iraq?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He's had limited statements so far. He did answer a lengthy questionnaire that the Senate Armed Services Committee did provide him in recent weeks and he, as Barbara Starr pointed out, he skirted a lot of the sensitive issues.

He did say flatly, and I'll quote now from one question, which was, "Do you agree there is no purely military solution to the Iraq situation?" He said, "Yes, there is no purely military solution in Iraq. The U.S. strategy in depends on political and economic efforts as much as military, though the military component remains critical to success there."

He insists there would be chaos if the U.S. were to precipitously simply withdraw from Iraq and he clearly opposes that.

But there's not a whole lot of specificity in his Iraq perspective. He was in the first Bush presidency, as you remember, Tony, and a lot of our viewers will remember. He was the CIA director. And at that time, like everyone else in the first Bush administration, he supported going to war to liberate Kuwait, but he opposed going all the way up to Baghdad and removing Saddam Hussein at that time.

So there is a history that he has as far as Iraq and Saddam Hussein are concerned.

HARRIS: So what are you expecting from the hearing today?

I'm wondering if it will feel a bit like the hearing a few weeks ago with General Abizaid, where there were a lot of questions about what the general thinks should be done and some specifics, but not a whole lot of specifics.

BLITZER: Well, there will be a lot of questions, you're right. Remember, these are a lot of Democratic and Republican senators. And many of them will be using this as an opportunity, knowing they're going to be on national and international television, if you will. They're going to making their own statements and making their own arguments and there's no shortage of shy members of the Senate Armed Services Committee...

HARRIS: Yes.

BLITZER: ... including the outgoing chairman, John Warner, and the incoming chairman, Carl Levin.

But on the Democratic side, there is going to be a wide range of views, going from Hillary Rodham Clinton to Ted Kennedy to Jack Reed and Joe Lieberman. These are people with a lot of experience in national security.

On the Republican side, I think some of the more interesting questions will probably come from some of the, let's say, hawks, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have been very, very forceful -- John Cornyn of Texas -- in saying the United States simply does not have enough troops to get the job done in Iraq right now, that the U.S. should have had a much more robust military operation in Iraq from the very beginning.

A lot of criticism of the outgoing defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, that he tried to win this war on the cheap, if you will...

HARRIS: Yes. BLITZER: ... with not enough boots on the ground.

HARRIS: Hey, Wolf, do you suspect there will be questions about Gates' role in Iran-Contra?

BLITZER: There might be a question or two. I don't suspect that that's going to be a major part of this hearing. That's, by almost all accounts right now, ancient history as far as these members of the Armed Services Committee are concerned. He went through that questioning back in 1991 when he was nominated to become the CIA director. He went through it. He was confirmed. There were about 30 or 31 opponents who didn't confirm him.

HARRIS: That's right.

BLITZER: But I don't think there's going to be a rehash of the Iran-Contra matter, when he was the deputy CIA director and there were suggestions that he knew more about what the Reagan administration was then doing in selling arms to Iran and using the profits to support the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

I don't suspect there's going to be a whole lot on that.

HARRIS: Yes.

Wolf Blitzer with us from Washington, D.C.

And, Wolf, you're going to stay with us through a large portion of this, this morning.

And we appreciate your time.

Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: My pleasure.

NGUYEN: Well, hard questions on Iraq. Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates trying to nail down the top job at the Pentagon.

We have extensive coverage of his confirmation hearing live this morning, right here in THE NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Good morning, everyone.

I'm Heidi Collins aboard a moving Intrepid ship. It's the first time in 24 years she has ever been out on the water.

We will have a live update on this historical moment coming up in THE NEWSROOM.

NGUYEN: And, as always, we are Minding Your Business.

Ali Velshi is here with a preview -- hi, there, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Betty. A big announcement from Pfizer, that they are stopping research and development into what could have been one of their biggest drugs ever.

I'll tell you more about that.

Stay with us right here in THE NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Well, it is a big day on Capitol Hill, as we are waiting for live coverage of the Robert Gates Senate confirmation hearing for the post of defense secretary.

You see there he met earlier today with President Bush and then here is the room where you know he will face a ton of questions today from many members of the Senate -- just to give you a few names of the big guns that are going to be coming out questioning Gates today -- John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Edward Kennedy and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

A lot going on. Important hearings today. And we will keep you abreast of all of it with live coverage right here at 9:30 a.m.

But in the meantime, we have a lot of news to tell you about.

HARRIS: Hey, if at first you don't succeed -- well, you know the rest -- try, try again. That's happening in New York this morning on the hulking former warship, the Intrepid.

A look at the live picture now. The Intrepid has to make its way to Bayonne, New Jersey, where it is being retrofitted, that beautiful monument, that floating museum floating now. And that is the good news.

Our Heidi Collins is on the carrier right now -- Heidi, I know you love this story. I know you love the people involved. And the great news this morning is that it is obviously on the move.

COLLINS: It's the first time in 24 years, Tony, and it is a remarkable day, because I will tell you, it was a slow start. There was quite a bit of time there where we were looking at the tugboats, of which we have five. They've got 21,000 horsepower here to pull this humongous vessel.

We're talking about 27,000 tons of steel trying to move down the Hudson River. It took a good 10 minutes before we felt a single thing. There were a lot of high nerves, frightened people, I think, on board. But now, that's right, we're floating down the Hudson River. And as I said, it hasn't happened in 24 years.

So want to go ahead and bring over Bill White.

He is the president of the Intrepid Air Sea & Space Museum.

Bill, tell me what your thoughts are right about now. BILL WHITE, PRESIDENT OF THE INTREPID: Well, we're very excited. You can imagine, we were turning on thin ice back there and it was moving a little slow. But it finally got underway and I can tell you how -- look at this beautiful view, all of the police boats, the fire boats. We're going to make it to Bayonne.

I want to thank the U.S. military and I want to bring in Colonel Nello Toretoro.

Without the uniform of the United States...

COLLINS: Colonel...

WHITE: ... of America, we would not have this ship out there. The United States Navy, the Army Corps of Engineers. We're very grateful to the military. And we'll be back in 2008.

COLLINS: Colonel, this is a $3 million dredging project that we didn't quite at this point.

Tell us your thoughts now as we're floating down the river.

NELLO TORETORO, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Well, first, we're very proud, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to be part of this mission, just because of what the Intrepid stands for and what it means to our armed forces. It's really an icon.

And behind the Intrepid is the Fisher Foundation, which supports so many soldiers in service members and what they do every day.

So it's been really -- we're very proud to be part of this mission.

The other piece of it is that we've worked side by side, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Navy and the Intrepid Foundation. And we had a lot of support from the City of New York and the state.

So, lots of folks over the past 30 days working very hard together to get this going.

COLLINS: And we should also mention, too, Tony, that we do have Warrior 1 positioned over at Pier 84, just a couple of piers away, from 86 that we left behind. And, of course, that is then the remodeled and beautifully painted Humvee that was used in Iraq by all of the journalists and some of our embeds at CNN.

It will be auctioned off very soon, in January, and all of that money will also go to the Fisher House, which I know you're excited about.

But tell me once again how you felt as the people on the pier that were gathered to see this event happen today started cheering and the helicopters were hovering and the boats were going.

WHITE: I just -- I'm speechless, Heidi.

I mean, you know, you've been with us from the beginning and we're so excited about getting the ship out.

I also want to thank McAllister Tow Company, because without them, we would have never been sitting where we are right now, which is in the middle of the Hudson River. This is great.

COLLINS: It's history.

We appreciate it.

Thanks for talking.

WHITE: Thank you.

COLLINS: We'll check back with you a little bit later on.

We have a little bit more of a ride to go here, Tony, so we'll check in periodically and let you know how it's going.

HARRIS: Wonderful. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. What a great day. What a great morning. Bathed in sunshine there, Ms. Heidi Collins.

It's a great morning.

Thank you.

We'll talk to you later.

NGUYEN: You can just feel the excitement there.

Not so much after Pfizer, though. Yes, a big problem for the drug giant. Its blockbuster cholesterol drug pulled from trials.

Ali Velshi is Minding Your Business and has the goods on all of this -- hi, there, Ali.

VELSHI: Hey, Betty, anything but excitement at Pfizer. What a rough few days it's been for them. After 15 years of working on what was supposed to be their next blockbuster drug, they made a decision to pull that drug from development. And they've got some thinking to do about their future.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

VELSHI (voice-over): It's not the easiest name to pronounce, but Torcetrapib was poised to be one of the biggest drugs ever. And it wasn't just going to save lives, it was going to save Pfizer.

Pfizer, you may know, makes the cholesterol wonder drug Lipitor.

JOHN SIMONS, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Lipitor is the biggest selling drug that there has ever been.

VELSHI: By a long shot -- $13 billion in sales for the drug this year alone.

So why does Pfizer need saving?

Because its patent on Lipitor is going to run-out. Soon, it'll have to compete with cheaper generics. Sales will inevitably plummet.

Lipitor prevents heart attacks by lowering bad cholesterol. Somebody would take Torcetrapib to raise their levels of so-called good cholesterol.

It wasn't going to be as big as Lipitor, says "Fortune" writer John Simons, but it would have been pretty big.

SIMONS: It would have been a very big deal. It would have sold at least over $2 billion a year, probably -- probably as much as $6 billion to $8 billion.

VELSHI: Pfizer needed that revenue. The world's biggest drug company makes good money today, but in the drug business, today is history.

SIMONS: Typically, drug companies will say that they spend between $800 million and $1 billion over a 10 to 12 year period to usher a drug from the initial stages of research all the way up to where they're ready to submit the drug to the FDA for approval.

VELSHI: Torcetrapib had been in the works for 15 years. But on Saturday, Pfizer pulled the plug after clinical trials showed a higher death rate for patients taking the drug than those who weren't.

Torcetrapib was about two years from hitting pharmacies. It's unusual for a drug so far along to be canceled, and it's a big blow for Pfizer. The company spends $7.5 billion on research and employs 13,000 scientists, largely in pursuit of increasingly elusive blockbusters.

SIMONS: It's kind of like hiring a bunch of art students who are very talented and saying -- putting them in a studio and saying OK, create me a Mona Lisa.

VELSHI: Torcetrapib may not have been the Mona Lisa, but it had all the makings of a masterpiece. And it was going to buy Pfizer the time it needed to come up with the next big drug.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

NGUYEN: And those of you thinking well, this is just a Pfizer problem, Ali, that's not the case, right?

Because a lot of big drug companies are losing patent protection.

VELSHI: Yes, a lot of these blockbusters are coming off patent.

Take a look at what's happening just in the next few years. You've got Zocor, which is a Merck drug; Norvasc, which is a Pfizer drug; Effexor for depression from Wyatt; Advair for asthma from GlaxoSmithKline; Plavix, also a cholesterol drug, from Bristol-Myers Squibb; and Zyprexa, for schizophrenia, from Eli Lily. Those are all coming off patent, which means they will have to compete with generic versions and their companies are going to have to find solutions for that revenue.

NGUYEN: All right, CNN's Ali Velshi, as always, we thank you.

VELSHI: OK.

See you, Betty.

HARRIS: And right now we want to take you to Rockville, Maryland. Actually, this is Wheaton, Maryland -- they're very close to one another -- where we have pictures to show you now of an accident involving a dump truck -- as the camera moves in slowly from the helicopter. The pictures provided to us from WTTG, our affiliate there in Washington. An accident, as you can see it pretty vividly now, between a dump truck and a school bus this morning. About a dozen children riding on that school bus were tossed around a bit in the bus. But early indications are that no one, none of the children seriously injured.

Four of the children were actually taken to a local hospital there with minor injuries and the driver of the dump truck, as well, was taken as a precaution to the hospital, reporting some chest pains.

But the good news, at least right now, no one seriously injured in this accident between a dump truck and a school bus in Wheaton, Maryland.

NGUYEN: Yes.

HARRIS: We'll keep an eye on it.

NGUYEN: The good news is it didn't happen at high speeds.

HARRIS: Yes.

NGUYEN: At least that's not what they think so far.

But something that is coming your way very quickly, some hard questions on Iraq. Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates trying to nail down the top job at the Pentagon.

There's a live picture of that hearing room.

We have extensive coverage of his confirmation hearing, which begins right after a quick break. Don't go anywhere, because you are in THE NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: We want you to take a live look right now, as the Senate confirmation hearings for Robert Gates are expected to start any minute now. Of course, when they do, we will give you full coverage.

But in the meantime, let's get the latest from Capitol Hill and Congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel -- good morning, Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Betty.

Well, our viewers can probably see just over my left and right shoulder -- those are still photographers poised to get Robert Gates when he enters the Senate Armed Services Committee room.

This isn't the first time he's come before the Senate to be confirmed. This was back in the '80s that he was up for the directorship, to head up the CIA. He withdrew his nomination the first time around because he was so controversial. He was ultimately confirmed back in 1991. It was very contentious back then.

Don't expect any of that today. In fact, it's not even going so -- it's not going too far to say that he is going to be a shoo-in for the job. And the reason why, when you talk to Republicans and Democrats, they'll tell you anybody but Rumsfeld.

There is a consensus among the senators, the 24 senators who sit on this committee, that it is time, not just for Rumsfeld to leave -- obviously, he hinted in his resignation, but for him to get out of there as soon as possible.

So Robert Gates is going to be probably confirmed sometime this week. During this daylong hearing, Betty, what we can expect most of the questions to focus on will be what Gates plans to do in Iraq. He did answer a questionnaire last week from senators, but he didn't really tip his hand on whether or not he thinks withdrawing U.S. troops is the right move, how quickly to do so, and when. You've got senators on the far left, like John Kerry and Jack Reed, and Carl Levin, who say that the U.S. should begin withdrawing troops soon. Carl Levin said that he wants to know whether or not Gates will speak truth to power, whether he will tell the president what he really believes.

And then on the other end, you've got senators like John Cornin and John McCain not just that the U.S. shouldn't withdraw, but that the U.S. should boost the number of troops that are in Iraq right now. So the focus of today's hearing will be to get inside Robert Gates' head, find out what his vision is for Iraq, and also, Betty, basically to get this done as soon as possible.

Well, do you really expect us to get some real hard answers from Gates today, Andrea, considering what you just said that he's expected to be a shoo-in for this position?

KOPPEL: Well, understandably Robert Gates was a member of the Iraq Study Group before he was nominated for this job, so he knows an awful lot about what's going on in Iraq now, despite the fact that he's been serving as president of Texas A&M University.

Nevertheless, I did speak with a senior Republican aide last night whose boss was briefed and sat down with Gates, and he said, if people expect to hear a lot of details, they may be sorely disappointed. So I think senators will try. We've got a few potential presidential contenders in the room this morning, Hillary Rodham Clinton, you've got Senator McCain, and you've also got Evan Bayh, who may throw their hat in the ring.

So I think we will see a lot of pointed questions, but I don't know if we're going to get very specific answers

We will, indeed, be looking for answers. In the meantime, though, Andrea, we'll be checking in with you throughout the hearing today. Thank you.

HARRIS: So let's get you back to Wolf Blitzer now, the host of "THE SITUATION ROOM," standing by to help guide us through the confirmation hearing this morning for Robert Gates to become the next secretary of defense.

Wolf, let me ask you, we hope to get some details from Robert Gates. But I don't know what your personal experience is with him, but you certainly know plenty of people who know him intimately. Is he -- has he been described as a change agent?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He's been described widely going back to his career at the CIA, and he started really at an entry level back in 1966 as an analyst at the CIA, Tony, and he worked his way up. The first ever entry-level CIA analyst to become the director of the CIA during the first Bush presidency. You don't do that necessarily by being a change analyst, but by understanding the political environment in Washington, and he did that extremely well by almost all accounts. And I've known him for many years. He's extremely intelligent. He's very political in the sense, but he goes along with what's going on, whether -- in all the administrations, Democratic and Republican, that he's served.

So I wouldn't anticipate that he's going to become the kind of lightning rod change agent that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was. There's going to be a whole new cooperative environment, I suspect, in part because of the Democratic win in the election last month. I don't think he's going to be another Rumsfeld if that's the question you are asking.

Yes. As we take a look at the photo op now with Robert Gates, and the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I wonder if he might use the stage. I'm thinking about the stage as I look at this picture here, this photo op. I'm wondering if he might use the stage as an opportunity to, through the questioning, weave a bit of a narrative as to what his vision might, in fact, be for the Defense Department.

BLITZER: I think he will. I think there will be plenty of questions about the downsizing or the increased capabilities of the Defense Department in this post 9/11 era. I think there will be some specific questioning on that. I was independent in getting back to the questionnaire that the Senate armed services committee presented to him as we see John Warner getting ready to sit down and get this hearing under way. He did say this. And let me quickly summarize a couple or three points that he made, which I think are indicative of where he's coming from.

He said, "I agreed with President Bush's decision to go into Iraq. He said that flatly, even though a lot of people obviously even at the time disagreed with that decision."

He said, "In part, in explaining why he agreed with that decision, he said there is no question that Saddam Hussein's regime was a dangerous and disruptive force in the region."

Now, that's what he says now, but even then there were plenty of analysts who said Saddam Hussein's regime was effectively contained by the United States and the United Nations, the no-fly zones, and was not much of a disruptive force in the region.

And finally, he said I believe that he, Saddam Hussein, possessed WMD, which we all know now, of course, he didn't possess. He possessed it in the '80s, he possessed it in the early '90s, but by the time of the U.S. invasion in 2003, by almost all accounts now, including the Bush administration's own account, all of those WMD stockpiles had been -- had disappeared or were gone. So he did get some specific answers to those kind of sensitive questions. I suspect we'll hear more of that this morning.

HARRIS: Is he the defense secretary for Iraq, and not necessarily the man to guide the defense department in its larger context, in terms of rebuilding the size of the military? There's a lot of talk about that. Where the defense department moves with respect to Iran, North Korea. There's a sense that he feels like the defense secretary for Iraq.

BLITZER: I think you are right. I think it will be Iraq to a lesser degree Afghanistan, to a certain degree Iran and North Korea. Those will be huge issues in the next two years. But in these two years and it's really only a year or so, year and a half, because presidential politics are going to be coming up. He's got a chance now to try to turn things around to a certain degree in Iraq, which is going to be, when all is said and done, the major legacy of this President Bush, and that's his mission right now, to try to come up with some sort of strategy that's going to not leave that region in further chaos and try to achieve some tangible progress over the next year or so in what's going on in Iraq. So I don't think we envisage a major revolution in the Defense Department as part of his broad band- aid, because he has a limited amount of time right now to achieve what he hopes to achieve.

HARRIS: Do you suspect that he will be asked questions -- and we're getting very close now, once the photographers move out of the way. Maybe I can sneak this question in. Do you suspect he will be asked questions about the broader Middle East, and perhaps U.S. policy in the broader Middle East?

BLITZER: Yes, and I think he will make it clear that he supports bringing in the regional -- the neighbors of Iraq.

Here in fact is the chairman, John Warner. Maybe we should listen.

U.S. SENATOR JOHN W. WARNER (R-VA), CHAIRMAN: We're very pleased that you have accepted another challenge, another chapter in public service, subject to the confirmation of the Senate. So we're very pleased to have you before us this morning.

Dr. Gates has a long and distinguished record of service to the nation. After establishing a firm educational foundation at the College of William and Mary in the Commonwealth of Virginia, he served in the United States Air Force from 1966 through 1969.

Dr. Gates then joined the Central Intelligence Agency, where he spent over 26 years, a quarter of a century, as an intelligence professional; including a period of nearly nine years assigned to the National Security Council.

Dr. Gates has served as deputy director of the CIA from '86 to '89; subsequently as assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser from '89 until '91; then nominated by President George Herbert Walker Bush to be the 15th director of the CIA in June of 1991.

In September and October of '91, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence under the leadership of Senator David Boren, who's joined us here this morning, and Senator Frank Murkowski conducted hearings on Dr. Gates' nomination.

The committee took the testimony of some 21 witnesses, compiled a record of over 2,500 pages of testimony, and favorably reported Dr. Gates' nomination to the full Senate.

November 15th, '91, Dr. 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 Dr. Gates' nomination on November 4, '91, I complimented Senator Boren on the very thorough way in which you, as the chairman of that Intelligence Committee -- and I think I'm the only one remaining in the Senate who as on the committee at that time -- for what you did.

And I stated on the floor, quote, "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," end quote.

I repeat those comments and stand by them this morning.

I would note that Dr. Gates' additional experience in government and the private sector since his departure from CIA in '93 and his continuing academic and scholarly pursuits have enhanced his qualifications to perform the duties of secretary of defense.

Dr. Gates, I'd like to address for a few moments the challenges that you will face if confirmed.

From 1969 to '74, I had the privilege of serving in the Department of Defense -- specifically, the Department of the Navy -- under three secretaries of defense. And, subsequently, I've had the opportunity to work as a member of this committee with each of the nine men who have followed that period.

Upon returning from my eighth visit to Iraq with my good friend and colleague -- the ranking member and the future chairman of this committee -- when we got back from Iraq in October of this year, I said the following at a press conference: Quote, "But I assure the country that in two or three months if this thing hasn't come to fruition and if this level of violence is not under control and 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," end quote.

I further observed that the situation was drifting sideways. Regrettably, the levels of violence have continued to escalate in Iraq, and the ability of Prime Minister Maliki and his government to exercise fully the range of sovereignty remain an enormous challenge.

Yesterday, I was present at an open forum when General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was asked a question: "Are we winning the war?," end quote.

His response was as follows, and I quote him: "We're not winning, but we're not losing," end quote. There seems to me a parallel between what I said when I got back and that distinguished chairman's observation yesterday.

I commend the president who, for the past two months, has directed the appropriate Cabinet officers to perform a complete review of all issues relating to Iraq and Afghanistan and our future policies; and asked his able executive branch to apply their best judgment in determining the way ahead, specifically, in Iraq.

Further, he's met with and indicated that he looks forward to receiving the Baker-Hamilton report, which we here in Congress will receive tomorrow.

This committee has invited the members of the Iraq group to a hearing on -- 9:30 -- Thursday. As yet, I don't think, Senator Levin -- they haven't replied to our letter.

The Iraq Study Group of which you were a member will formally present its findings and recommendations.

I commend the members of that group for their public service. I think it will be a very important contribution to this critical debate at this critical time in our history.

Additionally, General Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has his ongoing review. He does that pursuant to his statutory authority, exploring all options. And that is a continuing advisory role that he provides for the president; yourself, assuming you're confirmed as secretary of defense; and to 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, quote, "fresh eyes," end quote, on the situation in Iraq. Your nomination is confirmation of the president's desire for that approach.

Our committee will continue to look at every option, as I conclude my chairmanship and the distinguished senator from Michigan assumes his.

After the president has had the opportunity to review these very important reports, I respectfully -- and I repeat, respectfully -- suggest to the administration that he privately consult with the bipartisan leadership of the new Congress, members who've responded to the mandate of the people, 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 a moral obligation that our government -- executive and legislative -- has to the brave men and women of the armed forces of the United States and their families, who've sacrificed very, very heavily in this fight to preserve our freedom.

Dr. Gates, let me remind you of your own words from your book, "From the Shadows," about the study of those who serve in the executive branch to keep the Congress informed in a timely and candid manner.

And I quote from that book: "I sat in the Situation Room in secret meetings for nearly 20 years under five presidents. All I can say is that some awful crazy schemes might well have been approved had everyone present not known and expected hard questions, debate and criticism from the Hill," end quote.

Secondly, from the same book, and I quote: "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 was not supposed to be easy. I saw too many in the White House forget that."

I urge you, my friend -- and we have been friends and acquaintances for these many years -- to pursue your responsibilities in a manner consistent with these salient observations as you undertake the duties of secretary of defense if confirmed.

You've been nominated for one of the most important positions in government. You will be an important part of the new review process in determining the strategy and the direction of this country, together with our partners in the coalition must pursue.

I urge you not to restrict your advice, your personal opinions regarding the current and future evaluations in these strategy discussions.

In short, you simply have to be fearless -- I repeat: fearless -- in discharging your statutory obligations as, quote, "the principal assistant to the president in all matters relating to the Department of Defense."

Good luck.

Senator Levin?

U.S. SENATOR CARL LEVIN (D-MI), RANKING MEMBER: Mr. Chairman, I join you in welcoming Dr. Gates to the committee.

Dr. Gates, we appreciate your willingness to return to public life after more than a decade in what is supposed to be a quieter, academic area.

Sitting next to Senator Boren, who is also in that quiet academic area, I'm not sure I can accurately describe it as being that quiet, but we do welcome your willingness to return.

If confirmed as secretary of defense, Robert Gates will face the monumental challenge of picking up the pieces from broken policies and mistaken priorities in 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 portions of the Iraqi population.

We have failed, so far, to secure the country and defeat the insurgency. And we have failed to disarm the militias and create a viable Iraqi military or police force.

And 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 you will face.

We're going to 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 military's nondeployed ground forces that have a declining level of readiness to meet their wartime missions; weapons programs that, despite the expenditure of more than $100 billion 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 and 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 weapons systems ever deployed, we are blessed with an extraordinarily talented and committed military and civilian workforce.

Unfortunately, the department's effectiveness has been reduced by a civilian senior 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, direct 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 Dr. 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 to take a fresh and fair look at Dr. Gates' record.

In that regard, I find many of Dr. Gates' responses to the committee's pre-hearing policy questions to be reassuring.

For example, Dr. 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 also 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, quote, "in the worst days of the Cold War, when the U.S. maintained a dialogue with the Soviet Union and China."

He has reassured the committee that the 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, Dr. Gates has said 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 you have made to the committee.

I look forward to the testimony of our nominee. Again, I thank him for his willingness to leave a job that he loves to undertake a heavy and a demanding responsibility.

I also want to thank Senators Dole and Boren, who were such deeply respected members of this body and are such good friends of all of us, and whose endorsement of you, Dr. Gates, has significance for all of us.

Finally, this hearing has a special meaning for members of this committee, because it may well be Senator Warner's last hearing as chairman of this committee.

Senator Warner has always chaired this committee with unfailing fairness, dignity and civility, reflecting his passion for the security of this 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 the Senate Armed Services Committee.

I thank you.

WARNER: I thank you, Senator Levin, for those kind remarks.

And I thank each of my colleagues whom I've had the privilege to serve here these many years.

Twenty-eight years ago we came here together, and I pass the gavel to you in about a week or so. Good luck to you, my friend.

Senator Dole, you have been an absolute tower of strength in the institution of the United States Senate. And as you were the majority leader at one time, you have just a bare notch of seniority over our colleague Senator Boren...

(LAUGHTER)

... so we'll let you lead off.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERT DOLE, FMR. U.S. SENATOR: Now, Mr. Chairman, I'm almost -- I'm probably here accident, because the phone rang at home and I picked it up and the person on the other end said, "Senator Dole, would you mind introducing me at the hearing?" And I said, "Yes."

And I learned later they were calling for Elizabeth.

(LAUGHTER)

I appreciate the fact that she's on the committee, and I appreciate this opportunity. And it'll be very brief.

President John Adams once said, "If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind, whom should we serve?"

Bob Gates truly understands this. Granted, I may be a little biased owing to his Kansas roots. It was Kansas where he first learned the meaning of service while growing up in Wichita. His appreciation for the interest of others grew as a student at William and Mary and throughout his years as a career intelligence official and through his subsequent leadership of our intelligence services -- and, most recently, in his stewardship of Texas A&M, one of our nation's outstanding universities.

Through it all, Bob Gates has given of himself in this great tradition to our nation and our people.

Mr. Chairman, as we convene, our nation's defense policy is dominated by a single issue: the war in Iraq. Even those critics of the war who want us to withdraw soon or cut our forces substantially acknowledge that the stakes are high.

I believe we can agree with our president, who has said this is a massive and difficult undertaking. It is worth our effort. It is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes.

The failure of an Iraq democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region.

At this critical hour, Mr. Chairman, you and your committee have gathered for an exceedingly rare act, a confirmation of a new secretary of defense in wartime.

The last time this happened was in 1968, when President Johnson nominated Clark Clifford to replace Bob McNamara. Make no mistake about it: History is being made here today.

Today, Bob Gates is poised to take the helm at the Defense Department at a time of intense debate over the war.

Some contend that, with sufficient time and dedication, victory is assured. Yet there is no denying that, having overthrown Saddam Hussein, we have not secured the peace, that Iraq's borders remain porous, that the interests and destabilizing involvement of Iran and Syria have not been adequately addressed, and that the current power vacuum creates risk of an even larger-scale sectarian conflict. At the same time, those who have been calling for withdrawal or massive date-certain drawdowns should acknowledge that these are tactical shifts, not a radical overhaul of our policies; that the removal of Saddam from power opened the door to democracy; and that to realize these are goals worthy of sacrifice and the defeat is not an option, for the quality of life in many parts of the country is better than it was four years ago.

In the American experience, wars that enjoy equivocal support from our people usually end with equivocal outcomes. This is why our country must unite behind a strategy for a successful military mission, a viable exit plan, and a recognizable vision for Iraq's future.

I agree with the president that Bob Gates is the man to make this happen. He is a person of uncommon resolve, intellect, and strength of character. He has the force of will to exercise civilian control over the military, but be sensitive to respect the wisdom and counsel of our generals and admirals and the men and women who serve under them.

A famous Kansan, Dwight Eisenhower, once said of General George C. Marshall that he typified all that we call on or that we look for in what we call an American patriot. The same may be said of Bob Gates. And it is my honor to introduce him formally to this committee and urge you not only to confirm him as our next secretary of defense, but also to give him your full support in the difficult days and months ahead.

Thank you and God bless America.

WARNER: Thank you, Senator Dole. You've had a long and distinguished career, beginning as a combat soldier and platoon leader in the closing months of World War II. We have the highest regard for your contributions here this morning.

Senator Boren, a former chairman of the Intelligence Committee at the time that this fine American came before us, we're delighted to have you and to have you return to the Senate.

DAVID BOREN, FMR. SENATOR: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. Thank you for allowing me the privilege to join with my colleague, Senator Bob Dole, to present Dr. Robert Gates, the president's nominee for secretary of defense.

Mr. Chairman, members, I also have a statement with me of former Senator Nunn, the former distinguished chairman of this committee, that he asked that I submit along with my own statement. It's a strong statement of endorsement of the nomination of Dr. Gates.

WARNER: Without objection, so admitted.

BOREN: Mr. Chairman, and members, I sincerely believe that at this critical moment Dr. Gates is the best possible choice for this position. In my entire adult lifetime, our country has never been faced with more dangerous challenges. With only 6 percent of the world's population, we face economic growth in other nations and regions which are likely to bring them into them economic parity with the United States in a relative short time -- and military parity, as well, if they decide to use their resources for that purpose.

We are militarily spread thin in areas of the world where serious threats exist. And there are no easy options for extricating ourselves from our military involvement in Iraq.

At the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, we also faced threats that could've overwhelmed us. How we responded then provides us with an excellent guide for the present.

First, we brought together people of exceptional talent, like Bob Gates, to serve us without regard to political party affiliation.

Second, leaders like President Truman, a Democrat, and Senator Vandenberg, a Republican, adopted a truly bipartisan blueprint that provided us with a consistent policy for over 40 years without regard to which party controlled the White House or the Congress.

Third, we did not bear all of the burdens of leadership by ourselves. We formed strong alliances and partnerships with other nations based upon mutual respect. We struck the right balance between diplomacy, dialogue and military strength. We made sure that we were always strong enough to act alone if we had to do so, but we were wise enough to avoid that situation.

We must do exactly the same thing now. Partisan polarization, if allowed to continue, will destroy our economic, military, social and moral influence in the world, and it will ultimately destroy the fabric of our own country itself.

During his 26 years of service at the Central Intelligence Agency and at the National Security Council, Bob Gates demonstrated his sincere commitment to bipartisanship.

He served as deputy director and director of the CIA under Republican presidents with Democratic majorities in both houses of the Congress.

During the six years that I chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, I watched him effectively work to build a consensus on sensitive issues. Democrats and Republicans had equal seats at the table.

During these six years, in no small part because of his bipartisan spirit and his respect for the oversight and policy-making role of Congress, our committee, as you will remember, Mr. Chairman, had only a tiny handful of roll-call votes. And not one of them was even close.

We simply worked with each other and with the executive branch, often represented by Dr. Gates, until a consensus was reached. I came to respect Bob Gates as a realist who faced up to the facts and adjusted to changing situations.

He rejected inflexible ideological positions and worked hard to fashion practical solutions. We badly need those qualities right now.

Most recently, as a fellow university president, I have watched with admiration his leadership in bringing faculty members, students and alumni together to increase the strength and diversity of Texas A&M, where he serves as president.

Bob Gates knows how to lead large and complex organizations. He will hit the ground running as secretary of defense, at a moment when we have no time to waste.

But I am here today not only because I believe that Bob Gates has exceptional ability, but also because I have confidence in his personal integrity and in his sincere desire to serve our country.

It was my responsibility to chair the hearings which resulted in his confirmation to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency which have been referenced.

His nomination came to our committee on June 24th, 1991. Our scrutiny of this nominee was not completed until October 18th of that year. All the questions which were raised, even those of doubtful credibility, were vigorously pursued.

Part of the final committee reports reads as follows, and I quote it: "By any standard, the consideration of this nomination was the most thorough and comprehensive of any nomination ever received by the committee."

Thousands of documents were reviewed. Hundreds of witnesses were interviewed by the committee staff. The nominee testified for four long days in open and closed sessions responding to almost 900 questions. And written responses were submitted to an almost additional 100 questions.

In short, these thorough proceedings confirmed the commitment of Bob Gates to faithful and honorable public service.

Today we have an opportunity to embark upon a new bipartisan path to protect our national security. The Senate can do its part by quickly and overwhelmingly confirming this talented nominee as secretary of defense.

But confirmation alone is not sufficient. The president must also do his part by making sure that he gives great weight to the bipartisan spirit and realistic advice which I believe that he will receive from Dr. Robert Gates.

There are those who say it is an impractical and romantic idea that we can replace polarization with civility, cooperation and partnership. To the doubters, I answer that we achieved it in the Senate Intelligence Committee with the help of Bob Gates only 15 years ago. It is not only an option we can achieve with hard work and determination, it is imperative if the United States is to remain the world leader.

And it is for that reason that it is an honor for me to recommend to this committee the confirmation of Dr. Robert Gates.

WARNER: Thank you very much, Senator Boren.

We here on this committee are faced with the reality that we have but a few days in this session. And I think it's in the interest of our nation that we complete our work as a committee, as a Senate, on the advice and consent role trusted to this institution under the Constitution.

It is my intention -- and I have been in consultation with the distinguished ranking member -- that we will hold this hearing throughout this day. As the afternoon approaches, I would hope that the members of this committee would advise the two leaders here of their own commitments and desires. But it is our expectation that, before day's end, we can complete this hearing.

If not, we'll resume tomorrow. But I would urge that we try and complete it today.

We will also have an executive session today, which is important to examine the nominee in the confines of classified material.

So with that in mind, we thank both of our distinguished colleagues for joining us this morning.

And, Dr. Gates, before we proceed to hear from you, I would ask the indulgence of the committee -- a quorum now be present -- we discharge our other constitutional function; i.e. confirming the 1,023 pending military nominations.

All of these nominations have been before the committee the required length of time. No objections have been raised to these nominations.

Do I hear a motion to favorably report the nominations?

LEVIN: So moved.

WARNER: Is there a second? All in favor say, "Aye." Opposed? Ayes have it.

Second nominees -- I ask the committee to consider the nominations of Scott W. Stucky and Margaret A. Ryan to be judges on the United States court of appeals for the armed forces. Yesterday Senator Levin and I conducted a hearing on the nominations, and no objections have been raised to these nominations.

Do I hear a motion that these two nominations be voted on en bloc?

LEVIN: So moved.

WARNER: Second? All in favor, say, "Aye." Opposed? Ayes have it.

Thank you very much.

Now, Dr. Gates, we're pleased to have your opening comments.

GATES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

It is an honor to come before you today for this confirmation hearing. I'm also deeply honored by and grateful to the president for his confidence and trust in nominating for secretary of defense.

I want to express my sincere thanks to both Chairman Warner and incoming Chairman Levin for their speedy consideration of this nomination. Both of you have been exceedingly gracious to me during my courtesy calls.

I've long been impressed by the experience and collective wisdom of this committee. I'm also all too aware that secretaries come and go but the Senate Armed Services Committee remains. If confirmed, I will seek your counsel and take it seriously.

I want to thank my good friends and former senators, Bob Dole and David Boren, for introducing me this morning and for their kind remarks.

I'm also grateful to the former long-term chairman of this committee, Senator Nunn, for his introductory words of support.

I'd also like to note that I first came before the Senate for confirmation more than 20 years ago, in April 1986. And on that occasion and twice more, the chairman of this committee, Senator Warner, introduced me. I will always be grateful for his kindness and courtesy.

WARNER: I thank the nominee.

GATES: I would be remiss if I also did not thank my wife of 40 years, Becky, and our two children, Eleanor and Brad, for their infinite patience as I contemplate a return to Washington.

Becky asked to be excused today to accompany the Texas A&M women's basketball team to an away game in Seattle.

The Department of Defense, in peacetime and in wartime, always faces multiple challenges, many of which were identified in the questions the committee asked me to answer.

If I am confirmed by the Senate, I will do my best to bring progress in addressing as many of these challenges as possible.

At the same time, I am under no illusion why I am sitting before you today: the war in Iraq. Addressing the challenges we face in Iraq must and will be my highest priority, if confirmed.

I welcome the many alternative strategies and tactics proposed by members of Congress and others. More are coming, most notably from the Iraq Study Group, of which I was a member until November 8; led by former Congressman Lee Hamilton and former Secretary of State James Baker.

Other reviews are ongoing within the Department of Defense and elsewhere in government.

I am open to a wide range of ideas and proposals. If confirmed, I plan, urgently, to consult with our military leaders and our combat commanders in the field, as well as with others in the executive branch and in Congress.

I would then sit down with the president and members of the National Security Council to discuss the situation in Iraq and offer my thoughts and recommendations. I will give most serious consideration to the views of those who lead our men and women in uniform.

And, of course, it is the president who will decide what, if any, changes are made in our approach.

While I am open to alternative ideas about our future strategy and tactics in Iraq, I feel quite strongly about one point: Developments in Iraq over the next year or two will, I believe, shape the entire Middle East and greatly influence global geo-politics for many years to come.

Our course over the next year or two will determine whether the American and Iraqi people and the next president of the United States will face a slowly but steadily improving situation in Iraq and in the region or will face the very real risk and possible reality of a regional conflagration.

We need to work together to develop a strategy that does not leave Iraq in chaos and that protects our long-term interests in and hopes for the region.

I did not seek this position or a return to government. I'm here because I love my country and because the president of the United States believes I can help in a difficult time.

I hope you will reach a similar conclusion.

Lastly, Mr. Chairman, perhaps the most humbling part of the position for which this committee is considering me, is knowing that my decisions will have life-and-death consequences.

Our country is at war and, if confirmed, I will be charged with leading the men and women who are fighting it. The patriots who have volunteered to serve in our armed services today have no equal in the world and are in the long tradition of their forbearers who have fought our country's wars for the last 230 years.

I offer this committee my solemn commitment to keep the welfare of our forces upper most in my mind.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. That concludes my opening remarks. WARNER: Thank you, Dr. Gates.

I'll now proceed to question you with regard to the standard procedures this committee has with regard to all nominations.

The committee asked Dr. Gates to answer a series of advance policy questions.

He's responded to those questions. Without objection, I'll make the questions a part of the record.

Now, to the standard questions -- if you will respond to each question, we'll proceed.

Have you adhered to all applicable laws and regulations governing conflict of interest?

GATES: Yes, sir.

WARNER: Have you assumed any duties or undertaken any actions which would appear to presume the outcome of the confirmation process?

GATES: No, sir.

WARNER: Will you ensure that your staff, if confirmed, will have deadlines established for requested communications, including questions for the record in hearings?

GATES: Yes, sir.

WARNER: Meet those requests?

GATES: Yes, sir.

WARNER: Will you cooperate in providing witnesses and briefers in response to the committees of the Congress of the United States?

GATES: Yes, sir.

WARNER: Will those witnesses be protected from reprisal for their testimony or their briefings?

GATES: Yes, sir.

WARNER: Do you agree that, if confirmed, to appear and testify upon request before this committee?

GATES: Yes, sir.

WARNER: Do you agree to provide documents, including copies of electronic forms of communication, in a timely manner when requested by a duly constituted committee of the Congress or to consult with the committee regarding the basis for any good-faith delay or denial in providing such documents?

GATES: Yes, sir; to the limits of my authority. U.S. SENATOR ROBERT C. BYRD (D-WV): Mr. Chairman, I didn't hear that answer.

WARNER: Fine. I'll repeat the question and we'll have the answer. Do you agree to provide documents, including copies of electronic forms of communication, in a timely manner, when requested by a duly constituted committee of the Congress?

GATES: Yes, sir; to the extent of my authority.

WARNER: Fine. Or if you desire, consult with the committee regarding any basis for any good-faith delay or denial in providing such documents?

GATES: Yes, sir.

WARNER: Thank you.

We'll now have our six-minute round of questions.

I would start off with the following: The president, in the past two months, as the various studies are being undertaken about an analysis of our future course of action in Iraq -- studies by, internally, the administration, Baker group, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and others.

But at a number of opportunities he's made it very clear -- and I will read his quote as follows. President Bush said, "I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean that there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done as long as the government wants us" -- that's the government of Iraq -- "wants us there." Added a statement to the effect of, "We're going to stay until the mission is completed."

Now, we have to assume that you've had a number of consultations with the president to determine exactly what his desires are, with regard to the mission being completed, and what your understanding of those desires and your own -- your own -- approach, as best you can make it at this time without the benefit of having all of the studies before you.

But the question I have is: Did you understand fully what's in the mind of the president when he said, "We're going to stay in Iraq until the mission is completed"?

GATES: Mr. Chairman, I have the sense that the president's view of accomplishing the mission, at this point, is an Iraq that can defend itself, can sustain itself and can govern itself.

I also believe that he understands that there needs to be a change in our approach in Iraq; that what we are doing now is not working satisfactorily.

When he asked me to take this job, as he put it, he wanted someone with fresh eyes to look at the situation and make recommendations.

In my view, all options are on the table, in terms of how we address this problem in Iraq, in terms of how we can be more successful and how we can, at some point, begin to draw down our forces.

So, I guess, the bottom line is that I believe that he wants me to take a fresh look and that all options are on the table.

WARNER: And at this juncture, in your working with the president, you're comfortable that the two of you can perform this arduous task, not just this phase of such change of strategies it may take, but evolutions that could occur in the months to come?

GATES: Yes, sir, I am.

WARNER: On the question of the command and control of the U.S. forces in Iraq and command and control of the Iraqi forces, Iraq, as you well know, is now a sovereign nation.

That sovereignty was given to Iraq by the sacrifices of the men and women of the armed forces of our nation and other nations that fought courageously to enable them to have their elections, establish their government and begin to exercise the reins of sovereignty.

But an incident in October involving orders from Prime Minister Maliki to abandon checkpoints around Baghdad concerned me and I think many others. The issue is command and control of the U.S. forces.

Now, our forces had taken risks, indeed perhaps in some instances loss of life and limb, in establishing the progress thus far that we've made in Baghdad.

Several months ago the military officers came before this committee and said Baghdad is the battle that we must win and we're going to put considerable emphasis on that battle. And to date I think they would acknowledge the goals that they had originally established in their minds, the timetable that they originally, has not been met.

But this was a very interesting chapter of command and control, when our forces took those checkpoints, presumably at the direction of our commanders, and that direction presumably was in consultation in some measure with the Iraqi government. And then the prime minister appeared to be -- unilaterally said, "Take those forces back down out of those checkpoints."

It related directly to Sadr and his forces and indeed that area referred to as Sadr City.

What is your understanding of how this command and control is working today and how it will work in the future?

GATES: Mr. Chairman, I'm only aware of that incident by virtue of what I've read in the newspaper, and so I'm not familiar with the particulars. I think that that would be a question that I would want to address with General Casey early on to see if he is content with the command and control arrangements and what changes he thinks need to be made, if any, in the arrangements that we have with the Iraqis.

Clearly, as we ask the Iraqis to stand up, they are going to want to stand up by themselves increasingly. We want Iraq to have a sovereign government.

But as long as American men and women are putting their lives at risk, clearly the command and control of those forces is very important. And I would take it as an early priority to get an understanding with General Casey about his concerns, if he has any, about those arrangements.

WARNER: And that requires a very clear and precise understanding, because the men and women of the United States armed forces -- and I think we can speak for the other coalition, they've got to be responsible to the respective heads of their government and, in our instance, the president of the United States.

To the director of national intelligence and your relation, assuming you're confirmed as secretary of defense, during the debate over the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, you expressed concern about the proper balancing of authorities and responsibilities among the major elements of the intelligence community. You believed that the legislation enacted struck a correct balance.

In what areas will you consider to strengthen the working relationships between the DNI and the director of CIA and the secretary of defense?

GATES: Mr. Chairman, I think that the legislation addressed -- the final legislation addressed some of the concerns that I had had with the establishment of the director of national intelligence position.

I would have to tell you I remain concerned that the law charges the director of national intelligence with the execution of the national foreign intelligence program, and also with other things, such as ensuring that members of the intelligence community obey the law.

But the director of national intelligence cannot personally hire or fire the heads of a single intelligence agency in the United States government.

And as somebody who's led very large organizations, without having that authority, it makes it very difficult to exercise your will; especially if you're trying to change cultures.

So I would anticipate, if confirmed, working with the director of national intelligence to see if there are ways in which we can work together to ensure that he has the authority that he needs to fulfill his responsibilities. WARNER: And if there's a view that the legislation's required, will you promptly, in consultation with the president, bring that legislation to the Congress?

GATES: Yes, sir. I think that we can probably solve the problem without legislation. But should legislation be needed, I certainly would work with this committee and the Intelligence Committees.

WARNER: Thank you.

Senator Levin?

LEVIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Gates, do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?

GATES: No, sir.

LEVIN: Prime Minister Maliki said on November 27th that the, quote, "Crisis is political," and that, "We need to communicate a sense of urgency to the Iraqis." Excuse me. Excuse me. Let me start over again.

Prime Minister Maliki said on November 27th that, quote, "The crisis is political and the ones who can stop the cycle of aggravation and blood-letting of innocents are the Iraqi politicians."

Do you believe that the end to violence in Iraq requires a political settlement and that we need to communicate a sense of urgency to the Iraqis to pressure them to reach a settlement that only their politicians can reach?

GATES: Yes, sir, I do.

LEVIN: Now, the chairman has asked you about a comment of the president that we are going to stay in Iraq as long as the Iraqis ask us to be there. There was something else added to that which the chairman asked you about, but I'm going to ask you about that statement of the president, which he's made twice in recent weeks: "We are going to stay in Iraq as long as the Iraqis ask us to be there."

Doesn't such an open-ended commitment send a message to the Iraqis that somehow or other it is our responsibility as to whether or not they achieve a nation, rather than it is their responsibility to reach a political settlement?

GATES: Senator, I haven't spoken with the president about those remarks, so I'm going to have to interpret them myself.

It seems to me that the United States is going to have to have some presence in Iraq for a long time. The Iraqi forces clearly have no logistical capability of their own; they have no air power of their own.

So the United States clearly, even if our -- if whatever changed approached or strategy we come up with, the president implements, works, we are still going to have to have some level of American support therefore for the Iraqi military. And that could take quite some time. But it could be with a dramatically smaller number of U.S. forces than are there today.

And so I would interpret the president's remarks in this vein: that we are willing to continue to help the Iraqis as long as they want our help. I don't think that it implies that we will be there at the level of force we have or doing the things that we are doing in a major combat way for the indefinite future.

LEVIN: Secretary Rumsfeld in a memo that was recently published outlined options that the president should consider relative to Iraq. Some of the options were above the line, as he put it, and some were below the line. The ones above the line he basically felt were worthy of consideration, the ones below the line he did not think were worthy of consideration.

Two of the options above the line were the following: begin modest withdrawals of U.S. and coalition forces so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country.

Do you believe that option is worthy of consideration?

GATES: Yes, sir. As I indicated, I think that all options are on the table.

LEVIN: As you know, Dr. Gates, former secretary of state George Shultz wrote a book in which he was critical of you when you were the director -- the deputy director, more accurately, deputy director of central intelligence. And he said that he told you the following: that "I don't have any confidence in the intelligence community."

"I feel you all have very strong policy views. I wouldn't trust anything you guys said about Iran, no matter what. I feel you try to manipulate me. You deal out intelligence as you deem appropriate. I feel an effort is made to manipulate me by the selection of material that you send my way."

Would you comment, now, on those remarks, or those written comments of Secretary Schultz, addressed comments that he said he addressed to you when you were William Casey's deputy at the CIA?

GATES: Yes, sir. It's a significant question, and I think that it deserves a detailed response.

First, let me say that I believe George Schultz is one of the greatest secretaries of state in American history. I would also tell you that he was probably one of the best and most avid users of American intelligence of any senior official I worked with in my entire career. And I have a very high regard for him.

The reality is that I think Secretary Schultz's views of intelligence were influenced, in no small measure, by his personal relationship with Director Casey. It was an open secret in Washington that the two didn't get along. Casey was perceived as having his own independent foreign policy that he pursued independent of the secretary of state.

He was perceived as not differentiating, in meetings, between his personal opinions and the views of the CIA's experts. He consistently tried to give advice to the secretary of state on how to do his job, which I'm sure was not appreciated.

And finally, in the fall of 1986, Director Casey wrote the president of the United States and recommended that the secretary of state be fired.

So I think it's fair to say that they did not have a warm personal relationship. And I think that bad blood, frankly, influenced Secretary Schultz's view of intelligence.

I would tell you that I had a dialogue with Secretary of State Schultz, over a six-year period, on the quality of intelligence and the support that we gave him. And frankly, the relationship was much more positive in real-time than he portrays it in his book.

He drew heavily on CIA for intelligence relating to arms control verification, developments in the Soviet Union, the Pakistani nuclear program, a variety of negotiations he was involved in.

He was -- as I said at the outset, he was a very avid user of intelligence information.

At the same time, in this dialogue -- and we would meet almost weekly -- he told me that he felt that CIA was too pessimistic about too many issues, El Salvador, Lebanon, Angola, and various others, from one time to another.

And we disagreed on developments in the Soviet Union. Sometimes he was right; sometimes we were right. Sometimes we were wrong also.

I think that there was a high correlation, frankly, between his criticism of the intelligence and when the intelligence was focused on issues in which he was engaged in negotiations; and particularly when that intelligence analysis provided ammunition to his critics inside the administration or here on the Hill or where he felt they complicated his negotiations.

From a personal standpoint, he was always friendly to me. As I said, we met frequently throughout that six-year period. And I would tell you that I do not recall him at any time during that six years ever questioning my personal integrity or saying that I personally was manipulating the intelligence.

We would have big meetings and we would have small meetings. And in the small meetings, for example, on Angola, he was convinced the CIA was trying to manipulate the intelligence on Angola. And I kept trying to persuade him that what he was getting was the unvarnished views of the intelligence analysts and CIA and that Casey hadn't seen anything that he was receiving in terms of the analysis on Angola. But I think he remained skeptical.

So we had this dialogue for a long time. I think, as I suggest, his views in his memoir, frankly, were much starker and much more negative than the working relationship that we and other intelligence analysts from CIA had with him at the time.

LEVIN: Thank you, Dr. Gates. Your acknowledgement that we're not winning in Iraq, frankly, is a necessary, refreshing breath of reality that is so needed if we're going to look at ways of changing course in Iraq to maximize the chances of success. I thank you for that and the other candid responses that you've given here.

My time is up.

WARNER: Senator McCain?

MCCAIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Dr. Gates, thank you for your willingness to serve this nation again. We're very grateful. We know you left a very comfortable life in Texas to serve this nation again, and we are grateful. And I would like to offer my congratulations and condolences for your appointment.

I'd like to follow on just what Senator Levin said. We are not winning the war in Iraq; is that correct?

GATES: That is my view -- yes, sir.

MCCAIN: And, therefore, status quo is not acceptable?

GATES: That is correct, sir.

MCCAIN: I know you did a great deal of work with the Iraq Study Group, and there is a general consensus of opinion now, in hindsight, that we didn't have sufficient number of troops at the time of the invasion to control Iraq -- either Anbar Province, the looting, most importantly the weapons and ammunition depots that were looted at the time.

When anarchy prevails, it's very difficult to gain control of a country.

Do you agree that, at the time of the invasion, we didn't have sufficient troops to control the country, in hindsight?

GATES: Well, I had to deal with hindsight in some of the decisions that I've made, Senator McCain, and sometimes it's not very comfortable.

I suspect, in hindsight, some of the folks in the administration probably would not make the same decisions that they made.

And I think one of those is that there clearly were insufficient troops in Iraq after the initial invasion to establish control over the country. MCCAIN: And yet, at this particular point in time, when the suggestion is made, as the situation deteriorates and the status quo is not acceptable, that we reduce troops or, as General Abizaid said, that he had sufficient number of troops, in your study, when did we reach the point where we went from not having enough troops to having sufficient number of troops as the situation -- boots on the ground -- as the situation deteriorated?

That's a non sequitur that I have yet found to -- I'm unable to intellectually embrace.

GATES: Senator, I was a part of the Iraq Study Group during their education phase, I would say, and I resigned before they began their deliberations.

I would tell you that when we were in Iraq that we inquired of the commanders whether they had enough troops and whether a significant increase might be necessary. And I would say that the answer we received was that they thought they had adequate troops.

It seems to me that, as one considers all of the different options, in terms of a change of approach in Iraq and a change in tactics, that inquiring about this again is clearly something -- and it may be that a secretary of defense might get a more candid answer than an outside study group that was visiting them.

But we certainly -- the response that we received in Baghdad was that they had enough troops.

MCCAIN: Then the second and third questions should have been asked, and that is: Why is the conditions and situation continuing to deteriorate and not improve, if you have sufficient assets and people in order to get the job done -- which we now agree is not satisfactory?

One of the reasons given is it would be too great a strain on the military today; that we don't have sufficient active duty and Guard forces.

There were some of us, three and a half years ago, that said we needed to increase the size of the Army and the Marine Corps. And the answer was: Well, that would take a couple of years.

Well, years have passed, and we still haven't got -- and we're still putting an enormous strain on the active duty and Guard forces.

Do you believe that we need to increase the size of the Marine Corps and the Army?

GATES: Senator, if I'm confirmed, I'm very open to the possibility and the necessity of an increase in the end-strength of the Army.

However, first, because we have 150,000 troops in the field, and we have a regular Army of about a half a million, and a Guard and Reserve of about another half a million, I would like to, if I'm confirmed, to first of all ensure for myself that the other 350,000 troops in the regular Army are doing what we want them to be doing and that they are all needed in the roles that they are in as a way of making sure that before we increase the end strength that we're using the strength we have in the way we ought to be.

But if the answer to that question is that's about the way it ought to be, that those troops are deployed in the way we want them deployed, then I'm very open to the possibility of an increase in the end strength.

MCCAIN: Well, again, I think when you look at -- we are living in a very dangerous world, whether you look at Iran, North Korea, the crisis in Lebanon as we speak -- the list goes on and on -- it'd be very difficult for us to envision us being capable of handling another contingency, given the fact that our military leaders are saying it would be too great a strain on the military and the Guard even to put additional troops into Iraq.

I hope you'll look at it very seriously.

Mr. Secretary, finally, General Zinni, who is highly respected by this committee, who was former head of the CENTCOM, who was speaking of Prime Minister Maliki, said, quote: "You can't put pressure on a wounded guy. There's a premise that the Iraqis are not doing enough now, that there's a capability that they've not employed or used. I'm not so sure they are capable of stopping sectarian violence."

Dr. Gates, I don't think they're capable either. And I think political solutions are breed by stability. And if you have military instability, it's very hard to come up with a political solution.

And just about everybody I know who looks at these plans for partition, for withdrawal to bases outside of Iraq or bases inside of Iraq believe that a chaotic situation would ensue.

I think this is -- I agree with most expert that this is our last chance to save this situation. And unless we stabilize conditions on the ground, I think it's going to be very difficult to get the kind of political solution that all of us seek.

Recently, I saw this proposal to move the Marines out of Anbar Province into Baghdad.

MCCAIN: What do we say to the families of those young people who died in the first and second battle of Fallujah when we abandon it to terrorist organizations again?

I wish you every success. I know that all of us on this committee and in this country have nothing but the interests of our nation's security and the men and women who serve it as our highest priority.

And I hope you will help us gain consensus so that, as a nation, we can move forward and make sure that the American people are not subjected to more sacrifice as a result of the failures that we've experienced in the past in this conflict. And again, I thank you for serving, Doctor.

WARNER: Senator Kennedy?

U.S. SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA): Thank you very much.

And, Dr. Gates, I join those in thanking you for your public service, your willingness to come back in and deal with this challenge that we're facing now on national security, defense, and primarily the issue of Iraq. And I'm grateful for the time that we had talking in our office.

And you're going to, obviously, get a good deal of difference guidance and advice here this morning.

But just to really pick up on a sentiment that Senator McCain caught, we have lost 60 soldiers in my state of Massachusetts. I've talked with just about every one of them. And they're really interested in hearing from you about whether you're going to be an independent figure that's really going to fight for the best in terms of our security as we find our security today.

We know, since you have been nominated now -- 59 Americans have been killed just in the 27 days since you've been nominated.

In the 27 days just prior to that, 92 Americans were killed. And in the 27 days prior to that, 81 Americans were killed.

We don't know in the 27 days prior to the first of the year, when we're going to have these, evidently, decisions and judgments and a new policy, how many more Americans are killed.

And the people, the families, in my state want to know whether you're going to be that figure that Senator Warner talked about, that fearless champion of the service men and women that is going to be consistent with our national security.

These families know they were undermanned when they went into Iraq and they were underarmored when they went into Iraq. And they know that the military has served in Iraq longer than they have in World War II -- longer than World War II. They've done everything that they've been asked to do, and they've done it brilliantly, with extraordinary courage and valor.

And what the families want is to make sure that we're going to have a policy that is worthy of their valor and their bravery. And they're looking at you. And that's what they want, for you to make that recommendation, and that you'll be fearless in your battle, you'll be a stand-up person and demonstrate the kind of courage which is going to be so necessary to do.

Could you just let them know that you're that person ready to do it for our national security and for them?

GATES: Senator Kennedy, 12 graduates of Texas A&M have been killed in Iraq. I would run in the morning with some of those kids, I'd have lunch with them, they'd share with me their aspirations and their hopes. And I'd hand them their degrees, I'd attend their commissioning, and then I would get word of their death.

So this all comes down to being very personal for all of us.

The statistics, 2,889 killed in Iraq as of yesterday morning: That's a big number, but every single one of them represents not only an individual tragedy for the soldier who has been killed, but for their entire family and their friends. And I see this.

Somebody asked me about the pressures of this hearing and I said the pressures of the hearing are nothing compared to the pressures I got from a woman who came over to me at the hotel while I was having dinner the other night, seated by myself, and she asked if I was Mr. Gates. And I said yes. She congratulated me on my nomination and she said, "I have two sons in Iraq. For God's sake, bring them home safe. And we'll be praying for you."

Now, that's real pressure.

Senator, I am not giving up the presidency of Texas A&M, the job that I've probably enjoyed more than any that I have ever had, making considerable personal financial sacrifice, and, frankly, going through this process, to come back to Washington to be a bump on a log and not to say exactly what I think, and to speak candidly and, frankly, boldly to people at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue about what I believe and what I think needs to be done.

I intend to listen closely to people. I intend to draw my own conclusions. And I'll make my recommendations.

But I can assure you that I don't owe anybody anything. And I'm coming back here to do the best I can for the men and women in uniform and for the country, in terms of these difficult problems that we face.

KENNEDY: Let me just, in the short time remaining, thank you for your answer.

But you'll hear, perhaps, from others, but I want to give you just one more chance to respond to the statements about what good would your new eyes do when we have had the commander, who, as has been mentioned, has said this in the last one month: "We've got a strategy for victory that will work. I truly believe the only way we won't win is if we leave before the job is done"?

As the chairman and Senator Levin pointed out, the quotes, "There's one thing I'm not going to do. I'm not going to pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."

"We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done so long as the government wants us there."

"This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it all." Now, in short, should we believe you or the president on the critical issue whether the administration is really willing to make a change in its policy?

GATES: Senator, I'm willing to commit that, if I'm confirmed, I will be independent, that I will consider all of the options.

But, as I indicated in my opening statement, there is still only one president of the United States, and he will make the final decision.

KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you very much.

WARNER: Senator Inhofe?

U.S. SENATOR JAMES M. INHOFE (R-OK): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

There's been a lot of talk about the failures and the bad things that are going on, but I had occasion, Dr. Gates, to be in the AOR over there 12 different times. And every time I go over I see some of the successes.

And I see that, while there were three...

HARRIS: All right. We are going to take a quick break away from the hearings and sort of take a step back, Betty, and sort of analyze, sort of put into context, a little broader context what we have heard hIn the confirmation hearings this morning for Robert Gates to be the next secretary of defense.

NGUYEN: And if you want to continue watching those hearings as we get a little perspective now, you can always go to CNN.com/pipeline.

But right now we want to get back to CNN's Wolf Blitzer who is, as you know, the host of "THE SITUATION ROOM." He is standing by to help guide us through this confirmation hearing this morning for Robert Gates to become the next secretary of defense. A lot being said today, Wolf, including Robert Gates saying I'm not giving up my job at Texas A&M to be a bump on a log and not speak candidly.

But I have to be quite honest with you, what have we heard so far this morning as to exactly what is he going to do if he gets the position?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I think he's been very candid so far. He's been surprisingly blunt in responding to questions from Senator McCain, Senator Levin.

Senator Levin asked him flatly, do you believe we're winning in Iraq. And he said, quote, "No, sir. he believes the United States is not winning in Iraq." And that's in marked contrast to what we've heard from the president, the vice president, the outgoing secretary of defense. This incoming secretary of defense saying the United States is not winning and Senator Levin later suggesting this is a refreshing breath of reality that the American public, the U.S. Congress is now hearing from Robert Gates, the former CIA director nominated to become the next secretary of defense.

And then in an exchange he had with Senator John McCain who for a long time, right from the beginning has said that Rumsfeld was dead wrong in not deploying enough troops to Iraq to get the job done, to try to do this war on the cheap, Robert Gates agreeing, agreeing with John McCain, saying that there were insufficient number of troops after the removal of Saddam Hussein to control the country.

Once again, in marked contrast to so many other statements from top Bush administration officials, so, Betty and Tony, on those two points alone, the incoming defense secretary making it clear that he's going in with a new attitude right now, not necessarily wedded to the statements of all the past three-and-a-half years. And I think that's going to be a welcome response, welcome change for so many of the Democratic and Republican critics of the way the administration has conducted this war.

NGUYEN: Well, there's a lot of pressure with this welcome exchange, because as we heard Senator McCain say that I agree that this is our last chance to save this, referring to Iraq.

But I want to take you back to something that Senator Warner said earlier, urging Gates to be fearless. Let's take a listen to that, Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARNER: You have been nominated for one of the most important positions in government. You will be an important part of the new review process, and determining the strategy and the direction of this country can together with our partners in the coalition, must pursue. I urge you not to restrict your advice, your personal opinions regarding the current and future evaluations in these strategy discussions.

In short, you simply have to be fearless. I repeat, fearless in discharging your statutory obligations as, quote, the principal assistant to the president in all matters relating to the department of defense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: There you have Senator Warner urging him to be fearless.

But to step back for just a moment, gates Is the same man that during the 1990s, in his bid to be CIA chief, was accused of manipulating intelligence to support a White House policy. He served under the first Bush, now possibly serving under the second Bush. Do you think there will be a sense of loyalty, or is this a man who can stand on his own?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, he certainly is demonstrating today in response to questioning, initial questioning, and this is going to go on for the next several hours, that he's willing to come in with a fresh point of view, and he says flatly all options right now are on the table. The United States is not winning, and he's willing to review everything, basically, including having discussions with the commanders, all the combat commanders, on the ground in Iraq to make sure there are enough troops, to make sure the strategy is working.

He said something also very interesting. He said when he went over to Iraq and met with General Casey and the other commanders as a member of the Iraq Study Group, which is supposed to release their recommendations tomorrow to the president, the Congress, and the American public, he said it's one thing to get answers from the combat commanders to an Iraq Study Group, an outside group of advisers, if you will. It's another thing to hear answers when you're the secretary of defense. In other words, he's suggesting they may be more candid with him as a defense secretary as opposed to being an outside adviser from this Iraq Study Group.

So he's laying down some clear markers and he's clearly making it obvious that his major mandate right now is to try to do something to improve the situation in Iraq.

Well, you talk about clear markers. He's also been supportive of opening up talks, especially, with regional interests there in the Middle East, i.e., Iran. And would this go in line with what we are learning today from the Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki, saying he is calling for a regional conference?

BLITZER: I think that certainly Robert Gates has made it clear in his statements in the questionnaire that was submitted by the Armed Services Committee in recent weeks that he does support including all the regional neighbors of Iraq in some sort of conference, including having U.S. discussions with Iran and Syria. And today, as you point out, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki calling for such a conference. That's going to be in contrast to what we heard yesterday from Abdul Aziz Al Hakim, the Shiite leader, very influential parliamentarian leader, a power broker in Iraq, who said he didn't want to see any such regional conference. There's concern among so many Iraqi Shia that the Arab Sunnis who dominate Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, several of the other Arab countries would have a role in what's going on in Iraq and they want the Shia to be dominant. And we also heard over the weekend from Jalal Al Talabani, the Kurdish president of Iraq, he didn't want such a regional conference, because the Kurds have no great love for Turkey, as you know, they don't want to see turkey Involved in determining what's going to happen inside Iraq.

So we're hearing one thing from Nuri Al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq. We're hearing a very different statement about a regional conference coming from Abul Aiziz Al-Hakim, the Shiite leader, and from Jalal Al-Talabani, the Kurdish leader of Iraq.

HARRIS; Wolf, just a quick question. You know, I'm wondering. I heard that response to Carl Levin's question, and Roberts Gates saying no, we're not winning in Iraq right now. And I'm wondering if it's easier for him to be so definitive, to be so direct in the aftermath of the Rumsfeld memo that essentially says the same thing, that it is time for a major course correction, a major change in Iraq.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And I think he did get a commitment from President Bush when he agreed to give up his post as president of Texas A&M University, that he was going to be able to come in and bring, as he says, a fresh set of eyes to these issues, especially the sensitive, the critical life-and-death issue of Iraq. And he was going to be able to speak his mind and make it clear, even when he deviated, when he moved away from longstanding administration policy enunciated by the president, the vice president, or the secretary of defense. and he's making that clear right now.

There's no doubt that he's coming in with his own opinions, with his own assessment. But he is going in with an open mind, if you will, ready to make recommendations to the president and be blunt.

Just wait until we hear that exchange with Carl Levin, that direct little exchange where Carl Levin said to him, "Do you believe we're winning in Iraq?" And he says, "No, sir."

HARRIS: Yes.

BLITZER: And that's going to be contrasted to what the president was asked the other day, "Do you believe we're winning in Iraq?" And he said, "Yes."

And there's going to be a contrast there. And I suspect, though the president is going to say, I want to hear all of these views. And you're right, Tony, the memo that was leaked to "The New York Times" over the weekend from Rumsfeld saying the United States, in effect, needs some major adjustments because it's not going the way the U.S. wanted, is, in effect, opening up the door for Robert Gates to be increasingly more candid as he -- as he goes through this process.

HARRIS: There was also a mention that -- if you were listening closely, it doesn't sound like there's going to be any early withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

And Joe, if you would, get this sound bite from Ken Pollack ready.

He also said that decisions made in the coming months will have an impact on the broader Middle East.

And Wolf, if you would, listen to the comments from Ken Pollack from the Brookings Institution yesterday in his conversation with Betty, and let me have you respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNETH POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, I certainly think that we are already in a state of civil war in Iraq. It's probably a low to mid-level civil war.

The problem is, is that the trend lines are very bad. It is headed toward the kind of Bosnia-like or Lebanon-like or Congo-like all-out civil war. And, you know, what we've seen, Betty, historically is that those kind of civil wars do have a tendency to spread.

One civil war can cause another civil war. Remember the civil war in Rwanda that ultimately caused the civil war in Congo. Civil war in Palestine, today the state of Israel, caused civil war in Jordan, which caused civil war in Lebanon, which caused civil war in Syria.

So there's a very big danger of this situation getting further out of hand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: And very quickly, let me just sort of reset where we are right now.

We're continuing to follow this morning's confirmation hearing for Robert Gates. You see him there, at the top of your screen to the right there, to become the next secretary of defense. Senators are questioning the nominee right now. And shortly we will be hearing from senators Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Evan Bayh.

But right now, let's get back to Wolf Blitzer for just a little more context on what we've heard so far in the last, oh, 90 minutes or so of the confirmation hearing.

And wolf, you heard from Ken Pollack there. If you take those comments, if you listen to what we heard from Robert Gates this morning, if you were looking for Robert Gates to be the man to usher an early withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, he may not be your man.

BLITZER: Well, he did make it clear the United States is going to have to have a military presence in Iraq, he says, for a long time. Those are his words.

He says there could be a reduced presence and he suspects there will be a reduced presence. It will be dramatically smaller, but he thinks the United States is going to have to stay militarily put in Iraq for a long time to come.

HARRIS: Yes.

BLITZER: And I think that's not necessarily what a lot of the critics want to hear.

HARRIS: OK. Wolf Blitzer, much more with you this afternoon. We will certainly be watching "THE SITUATION ROOM" this afternoon at 4:00 Eastern Time, again in primetime at 7:00.

Wolf, thank you so much for your help this morning. We appreciate it.

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