There is another thing I would point out about the importance of a Democratic-led confirmation hearing on Bob Gates. The point of such a hearing would not be to torpedo his nomination, but rather to put down some markers on Iraq and attempt to define the parameters within which the Administration will operate going forward.
I'm talking about big picture items. What is victory? What is the strategic objective? Are we spread too thin militarily and how do we address that? What will troop rotations look like going forward? What should our force strength be? How much repair and replenishment of materiel is required and what will it cost? What resources do we need to commit in Afghanistan? What are the relative priorities?
I don't have much confidence that those questions will be addressed in GOP-led hearings. The thrust of Republican questioning will be, You're not Don Rumsfeld, right? End of story.
The temptation will be--already is--to dump the Iraq disaster in Rumsfeld's lap and be satisfied that just about anything and anyone will be better than Rumsfeld. First, that ignores the continuing role of the President and Vice President. Second, it seems to me that we are at a crossroads, with many options before us. Simply saying any road is better than the one we just came down is irresponsible. There are real choices to be made at this juncture.
After the 1968 elections, not many Americans would probably have guessed that we would be in Vietnam for another six and a half years. We're at a similarly decisive moment now.