FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Revolving Gates at the Pentagon

The change in control of both houses of Congress was not the only bad news for George Bush. The day after the election, he announced the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense and the nomination of Robert Gates as his successor.

Coming just a week after the president told reporters that he wanted Rumsfeld to stay for the duration of his tenure in the White House, the change in the Pentagon’s civilian head caught many by surprise. There was also a lot of relief. In the European parliament, 200 socialist deputies hailed “the beginning of the end of a six-year nightmare for the world.”

Not necessarily. Changing personalities at the Pentagon does not necessarily mean that policy will change. In fact, Bush stated flatly that the goal is still “victory”-an Iraq that can defend itself from terrorists and the meddling of it neighbors, provide basic services for its people, and is fully integrated into the world economy.

So the question really is whether Robert Gates can offer a different direction-and whether Bush will listen?

Confirming Gates

First, however, the Senate will hold confirmation hearings for Gates, who currently is president of Texas A&M. Gates, no stranger to Washington, knows the process well. In 1966, after two years in the Air Force working with intercontinental ballistic missiles, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as a Soviet analyst. He rose rapidly through the ranks until President Reagan appointed him deputy director of the CIA in 1986. One year later, he faced confirmation hearings to replace William Casey as director of the CIA.

In the meantime, however, the Iran-Contra scandal had blown wide open. A special prosecutor was investigating grounds for criminal indictments and Congress was holding extensive hearings. Many in Congress and in the nation were skeptical of Gates’ claim that, until very late in the action, he was largely “out of the loop.” The sale of weapons and spare parts to Iran and the diversion of the proceeds to the Nicaraguan Contras was a major operation. Even if directly orchestrated by Casey and Oliver North of the National Security Council staff, Gates most likely knew something of the scheme. That Casey and the CIA were directly aiding and abetting the Contras to overthrow the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega only fueled suspicions.

Facing an uphill confirmation battle, Gates withdrew his name. He remained deputy director of the CIA until 1989 when he joined the National Security Council. There he stayed through the 1991 war that ousted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. In March 1991, President George H. W. Bush nominated Gates (for a second time) to be head of the CIA. The Senate confirmed Gates in early November of that year, and he served until 1993.

When he appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee for confirmation hearings to be secretary of defense, Gates will see some familiar faces from his past, especially if the hearings take place in the lame duck session. Among those who spoke against the nominee in 1991 are current members such as Carl Levin and Edward Kennedy.

They may well resurrect the charges lodged against Gates in 1987 and in 1991. They may ask him again whether he lied to Congress about the extent of his involvement in or knowledge of Iran-Contra. They may want to know whether the CIA, under his watch, altered national intelligence estimates on Soviet capabilities to make the threat seem worse than warranted. Their questioning might probe his involvement in providing military equipment and intelligence to Saddam Hussein during the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War, all of which helped Saddam in his battles against U.S. forces in 1991 in Operation Desert Storm. More broadly, Gates may be held to account once again for the CIA’s failure to predict the demise of the Soviet Union, the lack of monitoring of Saddam’s progress toward developing a nuclear weapon in the 1980s, and the “politicizing” of intelligence to support presidential biases.

Anything but Rummy

Whether the U.S. Senate, in the upcoming lame-duck session controlled by the Republicans, will try to push through abbreviated hearings and confirm Gates as soon as possible or leave that task for the new Senate remains unclear. Regardless, even though he’s been out of government service for a dozen years except to serve on special commissions such as the current Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, Gates will most likely be confirmed ­ if for no other reason than the Democrats are eager to have anyone other than Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense.

The real test will be whether the change at the Pentagon and the change in Congress will produce any significant alteration in U.S. strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the very least, the U.S. public has expressed its dissatisfaction with the war choices of the administration and Congress. Needed now is planning for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. And the United States must begin to prepare itself psychologically for the day that Iraqis actually assume the full burden of devising a political solution that will be fair and workable for all Iraqi citizens.

On this point, the public will quickly glimpse just how Gates will fit in with other administration players. There may be White House pressure to implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group-due out December 7-no questions asked. Gates will have to take a principled stand, if warranted, or be seen as “politicizing” the war.

Mr. Gates, should he be confirmed, has his work cut out for him-as does the new Congress. And neither has time to waste.

Col. Dan Smith is a military affairs analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus, a retired U.S. Army colonel, and a senior fellow on military affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Email at dan@fcnl.org

 

 

More articles by:
June 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Divest From the Business of Incarceration
W. T. Whitney
Angola in Louisiana: Proving Ground for Racialized Capitalism
Susan Babbitt
Assange and Truth: the Deeper (Harder) Issue
Kenn Orphan
Humanity vs. the Rule of Law
Mateo Pimentel
Why on Earth a Country of Laws and Borders?
Michael T. Klare
The Pentagon’s Provocative Encirclement of China
Howard Lisnoff
The Outrageous Level of Intolerance is Happening Everywhere!
Vijay Prashad
The People of India Stand With Palestine
RS Ahthion
Internment Camps for Child Migrants
Binoy Kampmark
Rocking the G7: Trump Stomps His Allies
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Lawrence Wittner
Getting Ready for Nuclear War
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Women Protest After Being Told by Turkish-Backed Militias to Wear the Hijab
Dean Baker
When Both Men and Women Drop Out of the Labor Force, Why Do Economists Only Ask About Men?
Bruce Lerro
Big Brother Facebook: Drawing Down the Iron Curtain on Yankeedom
June 20, 2018
Henry Giroux
Trump’s War on Children is an act of State Terrorism
Bill Hackwell
Unprecedented Cruelty Against Immigrants and Their Children
Paul Atwood
“What? You Think We’re So Innocent?”
Nicola Perugini
The Palestinian Tipping Point
K.J. Noh
Destiny and Daring: South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s Impossible Journey Towards Peace
Gary Leupp
Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands
M. G. Piety
On Speaking Small Truths to Power
Dave Lindorff
Some Straight Talk for Younger People on Social Security (and Medicare too)
George Wuerthner
The Public Value of Forests as Carbon Reserves
CJ Hopkins
Confession of a Putin-Nazi Denialist
David Schultz
Less Than Fundamental:  the Myth of Voting Rights in America
Rohullah Naderi
The West’s Over-Publicized Development Achievements in Afghanistan 
Dan Bacher
California Lacks Real Marine Protection as Offshore Drilling Expands in State Waters
Lori Hanson – Miguel Gomez
The Students of Nicaragua’s April Uprising
Russell Mokhiber
Are Corporations Behind Frivolous Lawsuits Against Corporations?
Michael Welton
Infusing Civil Society With Hope for a Better World
June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail