- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006


The Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to confirm Robert M. Gates as defense secretary, with Democrats and Republicans portraying him as the man who will help overhaul President Bush’s Iraq policies.

The 95-2 vote was a victory for Mr. Bush, who named Mr. Gates to replace Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon on Nov. 8, a day after voters gave Democrats control of the next Congress.

Even so, much of Mr. Gates’ support stemmed from his pledges to consider new options in Iraq. The vote coincided with the release of an independent study lambasting Mr. Bush’s approach to the war, increasing pressure on the White House to change course.

“I am confident that his leadership and capabilities will help our country meet its current military challenges and prepare for emerging threats of the 21st century,” Mr. Bush said after the Senate vote.

He said Mr. Gates had shown during his confirmation hearing this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he is “an experienced, qualified and thoughtful man who is well-respected by members of both parties and is committed to winning the war on terror.”

Sens. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, and Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican, voted against Mr. Gates.

The White House said Mr. Gates would be sworn in Dec. 18. Explaining the delay, spokeswoman Dana Perino said Mr. Gates had commitments he had to fulfill at Texas A&M; University, where he is the president.

Mr. Gates said at the Senate hearing that he did not think the United States was winning the war and that all options for changing the administration’s approach must remain on the table.

“It seems to me that the United States is going to have to have some kind of presence in Iraq for a long time … but it could be with a dramatically smaller number of U.S. forces than are there today,” Mr. Gates testified.

The committee voted 24-0 to support Mr. Gates to succeed Mr. Rumsfeld, who became a symbol of the unpopular war and often sparred with Democrats.

Committee Democrats said they endorsed Mr. Gates because of his frank assessment of the Iraq war and his openness to change. Many of them said they saw the Iraq Study Group’s report and the change in leadership at the Defense Department as the necessary impetus for a different approach to Iraq.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said he thought Mr. Gates “recognized the high price that our troops are paying for the current policy.”

Republican Senate leaders also hailed the confirmation.

“The position of secretary of defense is more important than ever, and I believe the president has made an outstanding choice,” said Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Despite Mr. Gates’ popularity with lawmakers, he has not said what should be done in Iraq, promising to consult first with military commanders.

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