Battle Royale

IT SHOULD BE a familiar scene by now. Howard Metzenbaum, the cranky old senator from Ohio, leading his fellow Democrats as they grill the president's nominee. The nominee, sweating bullets, tries desperately to avoid the endless reformulations of the same tough questions.

Day after day, we saw the scene during last week's confirmation hearings of Judge Clarence Thomas. Metzenbaum and the rest of the Democrats were frustrated. Not satisfied. Getting their shots in against the president's choice.

Get ready for more of the same.

Today is the beginning of the rematch of September's nastiest bout--the Senate Democrats versus the president. This time, the president's representative in the ring is Robert Gates, his nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Gates' confirmation hearings were delayed all summer in the face of unanswered questions about Gates' role in the Iran-Contra affair. Finally, the big day has come. And if you thought Thomas got pounded, wait until you see Gates get hammered.

ALTHOUGH GATES hasn't received quite as much press as Thomas, his confirmation hearings will be the real showdown between the Senate Democrats and the president.

The Thomas nomination was no contest from the start. There was never a real question of character, just political views. Thomas isn't a bad guy--he's just conservative. Bush's pick of Thomas was smart--divide the Blacks, confuse the liberals, and before you know it, you've got a conservative on the Court for the next 40 years.

But Gates' nomination has already been a tough battle for the president. The summer months brought opposition from within the intelligence community as well as questions about whether Gates was involved in politicizing intelligence and transferring arms to Iraq.

That the nomination has even made it this far is a testament to Bush's personal popularity and political strength. Consider that Gates was nominated for the post of CIA director once before--in 1987. And he was forced to withdraw because Iran-Contra was too hot and Gates had his head in the oven. Now newly uncovered evidence indicates that Gates knew more than he originally let on about Iran-Contra.

But Bush was arrogant enough to nominate him again. Hey, if the president thinks Gates is a man of integrity, then he must be OK, right? Bush was confident enough to support Gates when some suggested that he should withdraw the nomination in the late summer.

Both sides are angry. Annoyed at the delay in the confirmation process, Bush showed an uncharacteristic lack of cool this July, lashing out at reporters while delivering a bitter defense of Gates. As deputy national security adviser, Gates is currently in Bush's inner circle of foreign policy advisers. He's Bush's guy.

The Senate Democrats are just as mad--and rightfully so. They're still frustrated with the Thomas hearings, and now they've got to face a guy from an agency not known for its willingness to chat with Congress. The Dems see the Gates nomination as another attempt by Bush to stick it in their face that he's popular and they're not.

SO THE INTELLIGENCE Committee is putting on a full-fledged circus this week. For the first few days, the senators will take their shots at Gates, and then they'll bring in former intelligence officials who will take their turn.

When usually closed-mouth CIA employees are willing to go to the press and before Congress, you know the guy is in trouble. The folks who run around toppling governments don't like him because he's a desk-occupying bureaucrat. The analysts don't like him because he's a hard-ass to work for. And we shouldn't like him because he's a certified brown-noser who has gotten to the top by modifying intelligence to please his superiors or, if we give him the benefit of the heavy doubt, looking the other way while the Iran-Contra operation was going on.

For all the president's whining about giving the poor guy a chance, Robert Gates deserves the tough questions that he'll get from the Intelligence Committee. The Committee needs to hear from the parade of intelligence officers who will tell them what kind of person Gates really is.

Watch Metzenbaum throw a right hook. Here comes Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) with a left jab. Yes, the Democrats have some fight left. The senators will connect, Gates will go down for the count and Bush will find a little dent in his invincible armor.

Call your bookie in Vegas and put your money down. This fight is a good one to bet on.

Jason M. Solomon '93, a staff writer for The Crimson, knows he coulda been a contender.

The Clarence Thomas hearings have been relatively peaceful but the Robert Gates nomination will be an all-out bloodbath.