Listening to the Senate confirmation hearing on the soon-to-be-confirmed secretary of Defense yesterday, it became clear that John Edwards was right. There are “two Americas.” One is the land of bitter partisan political rhetoric where Republicans and Democrats hold Manichean views of national security and what needs to be done to make the nation safe, free, and prosperous. The other America is represented by the reality reflected in the Gates confirmation hearings — that the factions in Congress are not nearly far apart as their election-year ranting would leave you to believe.
For the most part, the senators’ questions and the secretary-designate’s answers revealed Washington’s political leadership is not really all that divided on national-security priorities or on the practical range of options available to address the challenges ahead.
We learned, for example, that no one is really for “cutting and running” in Iraq, pulling our troops out right now regardless of the consequences. Nor is anyone seriously considering “staying the course” — leaving 150,000 troops in Iraq forever, doing the same thing day in and day out. In fact, there is a consensus for changes that will push the Iraqis to become less dependent on the U.S. forces and make the security assistance and support we provide them more effective and efficient.
We also found out that no one has really forgotten about Afghanistan. That country remains a critical front in the war on terror. NATO’s efforts need a bucking up, a better match of strategy and resources, and a tougher resolve to take on the Taliban, preventing the country from backsliding into the terrorist sanctuary it had become before 9/11.
There was also a uniform recognition that the war on terror has worn down America’s military and that there needs to be a sustained commitment to adequate Defense spending to make sure the armed forces are trained and ready for the future.
It was also remarkable to see that when Gates reaffirmed his commitment to missile defense as an important tool in the future national-security tool kit, there wasn’t much rancorous disagreement from committee Democrats.
Politics should end at the water’s edge. The Gates hearings offered Americans an unguarded moment when politics, for the most part, were put aside and politicians focused on the issues and practical things that can be done to make the nation safer.
– James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for defense and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation.