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Press reporting on information provided to the Senate by Robert Gates, President George W. Bush’s nominee for the post of defense secretary, show Gates hewing closely to the rhetoric of his predecessor. Gates is shown to be 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 repeated yesterday that there will be no troop pullout from Iraq "until the job 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 and for an earlier version of which Gates saw fit to advocate, even while he was still CIA director. Even if the system can be made to work (and this has yet to be demonstrated), the it 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 the evidence proves that 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 so-called "neo-conservatives," whose record for 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 neo-conservatives-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 in not "appeasement," Gates implicitly criticized the anathema on 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.
A New First: Snubbed by a Quisling
President George W. Bush landed in Amman yesterday afternoon for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister with a thick cloud hanging over their abortive meeting. The leaked memo of Nov. 8 criticizing Maliki by national security adviser Stephen Hadley threatened to scuttle the talks entirely, but after Maliki canceled yesterday’s meeting, he and Bush managed to put up a good, but transparent, front today.
Among other indignities, 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 the immoderate groups raising hell in Baghdad.
Equally clear in the memo is the White House’s continuing divorce 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 Washington Post’s editors’ solemn but lame suggestion yesterday:
"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 Post’s editors been over 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.
RAY McGOVERN works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. After serving as an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and then 27 years as a CIA analyst, he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He is a contributor to Imperial Crusades, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair.
This article appeared first on TomPaine.com.