press reports on information provided to the Senate by Robert Gates, President
George W. Bush's nominee for the post of defense secretary, show Gates hewing
very closely to the rhetoric of his predecessor. Gates is more parrot than innovator
in his responses to a questionnaire given him by the Senate Armed Services Committee,
which takes up his nomination on Dec. 5.
None of this surprises those of us who for decades have watched Gates make
career after career out of trimming his sails to the prevailing winds. No one
should expect Gates to depart one iota from the position of the president, who
"I'm not going to pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is
complete." In answering the senators' questions, Gates insisted that an early
pullout would risk "leaving Iraq in chaos [with] dangerous consequences both
in the region and globally for many years to come."
No surprise either in Gates' strong endorsement of spending billions more on
– and prematurely deploying – the missile-defense system that was Rumsfeld's
pet project. Even if it can be made to work (and this has yet to be demonstrated),
the system is of highly dubious utility in preventing the kinds of terrorist
attacks that appear far more likely than a nuclear-tipped missile from a "rogue"
state like North Korea or Iran – if they ever succeed in developing one.
Gates lumps the two together, saying, "North Korea and Iran continue to develop
longer range missiles and are determined to pursue weapons of mass destruction."
In attributing this intention to Iran, Gates demonstrates that he has lost none
of his verve as master practitioner of what we intelligence alumni call "faith-based
intelligence." Among serious intelligence analysts, especially in the Department
of Energy, where the expertise lies, the jury is out on whether Iran is embarked
on a weapons-related nuclear program – and, if so, how soon it might have a
deliverable nuclear weapon. And the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),
led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, also keeps saying existing
evidence permits no hard and fast conclusions.
In prejudging that key issue, Gates has elevated the status of Iranian intentions,
in Rumsfeldian parlance, from a "known unknown" to a "known known." In doing
so, he has thrown in his lot with the neoconservatives, whose record of accuracy
in such judgments leaves much to be desired, and who – after a pre-election
lull – have been revving up for another try at prevailing on the president to
attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Gates' position on Iran's nuclear weapons
plans suggests he will not put up much resistance to importuning by Vice President
Dick Cheney and the neocons – not to mention the Israelis – that Iran's fledgling
nuclear program must be nipped in the bud.
In what is known so far of the information in the completed questionnaire,
Gates made one departure from long-established White House policy. Very much
in tune with the admonishment of his patron Jim Baker that talking directly
with adversaries is not "appeasement," Gates implicitly criticized the opposition
to negotiating with the likes of Syria and Iran, stressing that such talks could
come "as part of an international conference" of the kind the Baker/Hamilton
group is said to be suggesting.
Hadley's Memo on Maliki
President George W. Bush arrived in Amman Wednesday
afternoon for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with a thick cloud
hanging over the meeting. The leaked
memo of Nov. 8 by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley threatens to
scuttle the talks entirely. Among other things, the memo gives the lie to the
president's protestation Tuesday that Iraq is "a sovereign nation." Maliki's
quisling status is laid bare, and Hadley's suggestion that the U.S. "consider
monetary support to moderate groups" will not go down well with "immoderate"
groups raising hell in Baghdad.
Equally clear in the memo is the White House's continuing separation from reality.
For example, under "Steps Maliki Could Take," Hadley leads the list with:
"Bring his political strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure and
bring to justice any [Mahdi Army] actors that do not eschew violence."
This is in the same league of naïveté as the New York Times'
but lame suggestion Wednesday morning:
"Mr. Maliki needs to give his own deadline to the Americans for
launching a truly make-or-break campaign to retake the streets of Baghdad."
Been there; tried that. Where have the Times' editors been during
the past few months?
There is some irony, if not comic relief, in Hadley's observation that "the
information he [Maliki] receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of
Dawa advisers." And so it is in Washington as well. If Gates is confirmed, this
will not sweeten the flavor of the self-licking ice cream cone that is the coterie
of advisers around our president.
Reprinted courtesy of TomPaine.com.