EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the December 31, 2005, issue of National Review.
There are several reasons for the Bush administration to fear–indeed, to dread–the possibility of a Democratic takeover of the Senate in 2006. Chairman Leahy of the Judiciary Committee is one. Chairman Rockefeller of the Intelligence Committee is another. But perhaps the most consequential, at least in terms of national security, would be Chairman Levin of the Armed Services Committee. Just to mention the prospect of Sen. Carl Levin, Democrat from Michigan, overseeing the Pentagon–and therefore much of the war on terror–and it’s enough to send a chill down administration spines.
Certainly, there are several Democrats who strongly oppose the administration’s national-security policies. But much of that opposition is rhetorical. Levin, on the other hand, works hard to actually block some of those policies. Inside the Bush administration, and among Republicans on Capitol Hill, Levin has won the reputation of being perhaps the chief congressional obstacle to prosecuting the War on Terror.
He has done it in two ways. First, he has put “holds” on key Bush nominees to national-security posts. And second, he has conducted an ongoing bureaucratic war with the Department of Defense, demanding investigations and re-investigations of issues that have already been extensively examined, all in the hope of finding evidence to support his apparently unshakable belief that a neoconservative conspiracy inside the Pentagon led to the war in Iraq.
First the nominees. Although in the minority, Levin enjoys powerful positions on both the Armed Services Committee, where he is the ranking Democrat, and the Intelligence Committee, where he sits beside Senator Rockefeller. In the last nine months, Levin has used his position to block three key national-security nominees. The first is Eric Edelman, chosen by President Bush to be undersecretary of defense for policy (succeeding the controversial Douglas Feith–more on him later). The second is Peter Flory, picked to be assistant secretary of defense for international security policy. And the third is Benjamin Powell, nominated for a top job at the new Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).
None of them faces any substantive objections from Democrats; they’re all qualified candidates who have no problems in their past that would derail their nominations…