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Last Updated:6/27/01
Excerpts from Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing (confirmation of nominees), June 5, 2001

(Nominees: Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy; Jack Crouch, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy; Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs)

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I think it goes -- that's fine. That's good -- with regard to the ABM Treaty.

Now, in the -- Mr. Feith, on the issues of Plan Colombia, the concerns have been raised about the collusion between the Colombia armed forces and the illegal paramilitaries. Given the significant funding our country is providing to the armed forces, what goals do you think are achievable in Colombia?

MR. FEITH: Senator, the focus of the Defense Department's activities in support of Plan Colombia is assisting the Colombian forces in dealing with their counter-drug work. This is a very difficult activity. It is performed by the Defense Department pursuant to statute, and there is a great sensitivity to keeping the focus on what the law would have the department focus on, which is the counter-drug activity, and not being drawn into entry into the civil war in Colombia.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, do you believe American interests in Colombia are worth putting the armed forces personnel at risk?

MR. FEITH: Well, as I said, this is a judgment that is made as a matter of law. The Congress has legislated that we are going to assist --

SEN. KENNEDY: I'm trying to find out what your views are. What are your views on that issue? Do you think it's worth putting the personnel at risk? And then I'm going to ask you what about the civilians; do you think they are? I mean, we ought to be able to find out what your views on this Plan Colombia are.

MR. FEITH: Senator, there is a national interest in dealing with the very serious drug problem. Weighing the different factors requires a mastery of the facts of the case that I don't yet have. If confirmed, I would be in a position to have an independent evaluation of that. I do know that this is an obligation and that the Department of Defense is fulfilling the statutory requirement.

SEN. ROBERTS: (Pause.) Well, thank you. I appreciate it. (Laughter.)

Senator Kennedy also brought up the question in regards to Colombia. I would -- I got a little mixed up in terms of his question, your answer: statutory permission, statutory authority. I think we have the statutory authority. And nobody wants to be in the midst of a civil war, and nobody wants to risk our troops. Senator Cleland has just referred to that. It's one thing to have a cause to fight for; it's another thing to have a cause to fight and die for. But let me say that we are making some progress, it seems to me, with the drug war and stability in the hemisphere. And one of the questions I wanted to ask all three of you was in view of General Wilhelm, who was the former four-star Marine down there in the Southern Command, he pointed out there are 31 nations, 360 million people, average age 14. Now, again, on the Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee we have the jurisdiction.

And look at the vital national interests involved here: drugs, immigration, energy and trade. All four -- as a matter of fact, I think it probably rates a higher priority than the Balkans. I'm not going to ask you to get into that. But -- and if anybody doesn't think that it doesn't affect the pump price in Boston or Topeka in terms of energy, take a look at Hector Chavez, who could be the next Fidel Castro in regards to Venezuela. Don't hold me to that if I'm ever going to be confirmed for anything, gentlemen. I appreciate that. (Laughter.)

But at any rate, could you comment on that in terms of our strategic national interest? And Doug, you can start off, if you'd like. I don't want to risk anybody down there in terms of a civil war. But I think in terms of Colombia and stability of the region it's very important. Am I right?

MR. FEITH: Senator, I agree with you that the stability of the whole Andean region, the whole northern part of South America is an important U.S. national security interest. One of the reasons that we are in the relatively happy strategic position that the United States now finds itself in after the cold war is that we have peace in the hemisphere on our borders, and making sure that our neighbors remain peaceful and reasonably stable is a very important interest of ours. And I think the items that you cited -- drugs, immigration, trade, energy -- all are important factors that have to be properly weighed in making our policy toward that region.

SEN. ROBERTS: I'm going to ask Peter, too.

Peter, regards from Bob Ellsworth, our former member of Congress, NATO ambassador, assistant secretary of Defense, foreign policy adviser deluxe and guru. He called me yesterday and said "Treat Peter Rodman with all due respect. He's the best," and I agree.

Now, with that introduction -- (light laughter) -- what about the southern hemisphere?

MR. RODMAN: Well, thank you, senator, for including me in the hearing also. (Laughter.) I'm grateful -- well, maybe I shouldn't be grateful --

SEN. ROBERTS: Be careful. Just be careful what you --

MR. RODMAN: Careful of what you ask for, right?

SEN. ROBERTS: Yeah, be careful what you ask for. (Laughter.) That's exactly right.

MR. RODMAN: (Laughs.) No, I'm happy to answer that question. And I also want to compliment you and Senator Cleland and the familiar and general way with the colloquy which you both engaged in a year ago on the broad question of our national interest. And obviously the Western hemisphere is an area where we have an enormous national interest, and always have. So there's no question that Colombia is one of the biggest -- one of the most daunting issues on the agenda. And I have to say, if I'm confirmed in this position, this will be one of the tough issues that I will have to address. And I'm not an expert on Latin America. So I will need to educate myself.

What I have learned as I've tried to read up on this is a lot of questions that we haven't faced squarely. Clearly we have an interest in the counter-drug operation. But we also have a broader interest in our relations with these countries which are now mostly democracies, and in supporting these democratic friends against the challenges they face in the political and security dimension. But how you disentangle these or how you keep them, you know, together, or whatever, this is an issue I certainly don't have the answer for, because it has been said that none of us wants to get into a war -- you know, the word "counterinsurgency" scares the hell out of everybody.

But we do have an interest in the security, the viability, the strength of these -- of a democratic country like Colombia, and unfortunately, it has become, in part, a responsibility of the Department of Defense.

And all I can say is I don't have the answers yet, Senator, but I thank you for your kind words, and I know that this is something that has to be at the top of ISA's agenda.

SEN. BEN NELSON (D-NE): Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Feith, one could have concluded from many of your writings and your legal memoranda that you don't think very much of arms agreements and/or treaties. Some people have suggested that maybe some of your views may even get nearly off the chart.

And I wouldn't suggest that there's any "confirmation conversion" here, but there does seem to be a shift in your thoughts about your arguments. The bright light of opinion seems to pale a little bit under examination. I'll be anxious to know what your policy advice will be to the White House, if you're confirmed.

Perhaps Senator Roberts will be long-remembered for the Roberts rule which he introduced today, and that is, always have a disclaimer associated with any writings, in case you come before this committee or any other committee for confirmation.

But what I'd like to do is ask you a little bit more about Plan Colombia. I know that you said that you haven't had the opportunity to get into it to any great extent, but in terms of policies -- and I'm not trying to set this up, because it could be any or all of the above, but is it a civil war? Is it a drug war? Is it nation- building? Is it being the world policeman? Is it any or all of those, or is it something else? Civil war, drug war, nation-building, or being the world policeman?

MR. FEITH: Senator, I think that the problem in Colombia is all of the above and probably a few more things you could list. It is --

SEN. BEN NELSON: Is it appropriate for us to be in any of those roles, or all of those roles?

MR. FEITH: As I understand it, Senator, our role right now is focused on the drug -- on the counterdrug activities of the Colombian armed forces. It's difficult to draw very neat lines between these different areas that you highlighted. It's quite clear that if we enhance the capabilities of the Colombia forces to deal in their counterdrug operations, then necessarily you're enhancing their capabilities overall, which, you know, ultimately redounds to the benefit of the government in dealing with the insurgency.

So it's not a subject that lends itself to neat compartmentalization, but I think that the focus of the DOD efforts, as I understand the situation, is -- is appropriate; I mean, it is within the bounds of the law. And the broader points that were made earlier by Peter Rodman and others about the general importance of stability in our hemisphere are an important element of our analysis of that issue.

SEN. BEN NELSON: Mr. Rodman, not to leave you out --

MR. RODMAN: (Chuckles.)

SEN. BEN NELSON: -- could you respond to that, too, please?

MR. RODMAN: Well, I share the sentiment. We have decided as a country to emphasize the counternarcotics effort. I mean, that's -- that's what two administrations and the Congress have decided. But I think, inescapably, we also have a stake in Colombia as a long- standing democracy and a friend. And I wouldn't call it nation- building, because I think that phrase brings to mind, you know, more ambitious things that we may not, in other parts of the world, want to attempt.

But I think we do have a stake and we shouldn't shy away from saying it -- a stake in helping Colombia, which is a friend, to survive. It is under -- it happens to be under assault by extremists of both the right and the left, and we have chosen not to -- we have not chosen to get into the civil war, but I think, you know, inescapably, as Doug said, any help we give them we are hoping that they will be intact as a state.

Now, you mentioned world policeman. I don't think that applies. I think the Western Hemisphere is -- if we don't have a vital interest in the Western Hemisphere, then, you know, we don't have a vital interest anywhere. This is a friendly country, a pivotal country, that we have a stake in.

And I think, you know, obviously, as a country we've been very careful and cautious, and I don't have any answers about what we should do, but I think there are good reasons why we're involved there.

SEN. BEN. NELSON: Would that apply to the Balkans or Haiti or Somalia?

MR. RODMAN: Well, every case is different, and I have opinions about different issues. And the Balkans -- I mean, I support what the president has said. You know, we are engaged there, and we and our allies need to make collective decisions one way or the other.

Haiti is something in the past. I had some doubts about it when it happened. But it's not a -- I mean, it's not on the current agenda.

But I think we have to be selective. I mean, I think this is the president's philosophy, and it's shared by many others. We cannot get engaged everywhere; we need to look at where our national interests are at stake. And it's something that the president and the Congress, one hopes, will share in deciding as a country what we do.

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