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Gates as SecDef: I'm Obviously Not Smart Enough to Understand

| 32 Comments

So, I've been thinking about W's choice for Secretary of Defense to succeed Rumsfeld. And I'm looking at the sequence of events, and the choice, and again and again I'm left to wonder... is this guy as dumb as his enemies think he is? I know you can't get to the majors without hitting a curveball, and you don't get to the White House without some smarts, and standardized military tests place W slightly higher than John Kerry... but then you have:

  • W refuses to accept Rumsfeld's resignation pre-election, thus denying the GOP any possible benefit in close races. The GOP narrowly loses the Senate. The next day, W cans him. File that one under department of "Huh?!?" Word says the GOP is pissed. Ya think?!?
  • JD Henderson at Intel Dump posts a bit about Gates and Iran-Contra. I understand what the Gipper et al were trying to do there, but let's just say it wasn't the proudest moment of his Presidency. Gates wasn't prosecuted because they didn't think there was evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that he was lying, but he sure doesn't look like he told the truth to Congress either. JD thinks Gates should get a pass on it for being the anti-Rumsfeld. I say this will be back, in spades, the first time there's friction with Congress.

    And W. is saddling himself with this extra problem why, exactly? Because he obviously doesn't have enough of them what with Pakistan surrendering to al-Qaeda in September, Afghanistan about to become a serious problem in 2007, and Iraq looking shaky as hell. Not to mention the Iranian death-cultists and their nukes, plus minor domestic issues like immigration.
  • Hmm, Iraq. Where the #1 problem right now is Shi'ite militias (principally al-Sadr) that appear to have the government in their grip. This is a recipe for sure-fire civil war unless they can be disarmed/ defeated. And Gates was... oh, yeah, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser, then Director of the CIA, when the Shi'ites were encouraged to rebel and then abandoned in 1991 so they could be fed into plastic shredders while Saddam's troops laughed. Secretary of State at the time was James A. Baker III, who is leading the commission designed to produce a change of US strategy in Iraq. Odds of any Shi'ites in Iraq doing anything but doubling down on their militias under these circumstances are... about zero. Maybe less.

    Maybe if a more reassuring appointment has been made as well - but this one was the worst possible on that front. If the resulting options become "Iraq goes full civil war as militias mushroom," or "you have the USA's strategic break-point of a 2-front ethnic war in Iraq if you try to stop it,"... that looks pretty close to "game over, you just lost" to me. Nice nomination, W - if you wanted it to make a splash, you sure got your wish. And aren't you glad your guys wouldn't kill Sadr when he made his intentions plain 3 years ago?
  • Assuming all the other stuff is addressed, Gates will have a number of tasks ahead of him in the Pentagon. Fixing the defense procurement death spiral. Dealing with the war's maintenance overhang plus the USA's aging equipment inventory in all services. I'd say those are the 2 biggest, and they're party-independent issues that risk gutting the US military as a result of a long chain of interrelated patterns stretching back decades. If Gates has the slightest idea how to fix either of these things, it's news to me. The reviews, even the positive ones, says he's not a change agent. But if these things are not fixed, the USA is in big trouble for the next 20 years or more because it has reached the end point with things like a force of just 180 F-22 Raptors, 21 stealth bombers (7-10 operational at any one time), and just 2-8 ships planned in the new DDG-1000 destroyer class.
  • Hey, and while you're at it, W, why not revive the old charge by your enemies that you're just a tool of your Dad by giving it lots of fuel. Bet that'll help your political efforts - love the Newsweek cover.

Gates has shown that he's a capable man - but that doesn't make him the right man. Some of this stuff is probably survivable until a new President takes office in 2008 and installs a new SecDef. The exceptions are the timing of all this, which is unrecoverable stupidity, and Iraq - which may just become unrecoverable. This nomination may make it through the halls of Congress, but it doesn't seem to make very much sense outside it - and outside is where Gates' real job lies.

32 Comments

Hm. Some sense of the magnitude of the disaster has even washed up on the rock known as Winds of Change:

This nomination may make it through the halls of Congress, but it doesn't seem to make very much sense outside it - and outside is where Gates' real job lies.

Yeah, doesn't seem to make much sense, does it. Sort of like invading Iraq. Here's my personal thought process, from early 2003:

This war may make it through the halls of Congress, but it doesn't seem to make very much sense outside it -- and in the real world is where this war's real purpose lies...

But you go to war with the President you have, not the President you wish you had. As a wise man once said.

Regarding the timing of the announcement, it makes some sense to me that someone might believe that caving to pressure about replacing Rummy prior to an election might actually lose both some moderate votes and some base conservative votes. The only question is an empirical one, about whether the net effect would be positive or negative. And I don't think one can really know that with certainty.

Given that (which might well be a stretch for some people) the justification given, that it is detrimental to troop morale to be seen playing to partisan sentiment, is just the deciding factor.

I can't speak to the other stuff with any authority, but I tend to agree. The appointment of Gates only makes sense if there's some compelling unknown.

Gates is a relic of Bush 41. That's bad. Bush 43 has to set his own course, not relive the "read my lips" script.

I see two possibilities. One is that Gates is a poison pill that Bush is offering to Harry Reid. The Democrats confirm him, then they take the rap for the resulting disaster, and the GOP will be well positioned for the 2008 elections.

The other possibility is that Bush has already given up on the goal of turning Iraq into a showcase of Arab democracy. There is no way the US can stop Sadr, with Maliki's support, from engaging in ethnic cleansing short of going to war against the Maliki government. As long as the winner of the civil war is Iraqi Shiastan (and probably a separate Iraqi Kurdistan), and not Iran or al Qaida, Bush (or the American people) may not be willing to go to desperate lengths to stop it. Gates gives Bush cover for looking the other way while the ethnic cleansing proceeds, and gives the Democrats cover for "cutting and running."

This is a disaster for the Sunni Arabs in Iraq, but for the US, with the caveat about Iran and al Qaida, it is merely a setback. It's not a disaster for the US unless it leads to Iran getting nuclear weapons that they would not have gotten otherwise. The real strategic question for the US is "How do we deal with the Iranian nuclear weapons program?"

I don't believe the appointment of Robert Gates has negative implications for the Iraqi front of the war on terror. That's been placed like a bankrupt enterprise in the hands of the fabulous Baker boys. Anyone who meets with their approval will do. And the President isn't in a strong enough position to fight the legislature and the mainstream media anyway, so another hostage does not matter.

I agree with Peter A. Taylor's second option in post #4.

I see no reason to believe Iraqi attitudes will be worse because of this. They are what they are.

I think some of the criticism related to timing and protecting the majority is invalid. This was a very weak legislature that was going to lose its majority whenever the public was asked to approve or reject it, since it was not ably, vigorously and honestly serving the public.

"Republicans cite the fumbled rollout of Social Security reform, the administration's continued support of comprehensive immigration reform and the president's insistence to defend American involvement in Iraq on the campaign trail."

George W. Bush claimed a mandate for social security reform on his re-election night, and the Republican legislature did not back him. The roads diverged from there.

Legislators more concerned with their seats than with achievements let down everyone from the President to retirees whose social security in days to come may be endangered by a system that was not fixed. Under the circumstances, blaming the president for not timing things to protect a Republican legislative majority that cared so much for itself that it didn't adequately serve the public underlines the problem, which is: guys, it's not all about you.

Really, relations between George W. Bush and the selfish, corrupt and do-nothing Republican legislative majority were better than they should have been, since George W. Bush kept things sweet partly by not using his veto even when he should have. Anyway...

Fixing the defense procurement death spiral, the maintenance crunch and related challenges does concern me. (Good links: thanks!) I think we're in for an awful fight. But maybe Robert Gates will prove better than expected at arming America.

And if not, it may possibly not matter anyway. (link)

Joe,

It seems that Bush's detractors either have him being an evil genius or a bumbling idiot. Neither of those ever made sense to me. Perhaps he is a bumbling genius? I guess the other choice is evil idiot, but my tinfoil hat is on the fritz.

I think (and it will never be proven probably) that Rove and Bush made the call that Rummy was of best use to the president as a post-election peace offering. Bush actually has more of a chance to make progress with the Democratic Congress than with the Republican one. The Ds are looking to have something to brag about, and Bush has always been willing to play ball.

As far as the intricate, problematic, and trending-bad nature of the DoD, that's a great topic for an entire blog. To restate the obvious, I think when large systems of people get dysfunctional it is most always the system, not the people. Good and bad people can be expected in any organization. Most commercial organizations, however, have regular shake-ups where a lot of senior staff is replaced. Even in the governmental sector, our armed forces have traditionally been through boom or bust cycles.

I'm not trying to offer a simple answer, but I point out that there is no self-correcting section of DoD procurement. Folks are rewarded for "not rocking the boat" and making it to retirement. "Sexy" programs are promoted over perhaps more practical ones. Congress is so far inserted into DoD procurement that it would require an expert proctologist to remove them. And it's not like Congressmen are willing to put the strategic country's interest above their own -- they are looking for excuses to spend money on their constituents in the name of national defense.

Good luck, Gates! You're going to need it.

Gates has shown that he's a capable man - but that doesn't make him the right man.

but why not? His history in the 80s and early 90s are steeped in the realpolitik of the day but that was during the Cold War. nuff said.

As far as today, Gates' major change will be to treat Iran and Syria as the rational actors they are. Classic Westphalianism. Neither Iran nor Syria are served by anarchy in Iraq, a breakup into three nation states (which would guarantee Turkey's meddling in their domain as well as a histile Sunni state on their doorstep). In fact if anything stability in Iraq might well lead to more freedom in Iran and a weakening of the mullah's grip (economic prosperity is directly correlated with liberty. See Zakaria's "Future of Freedom"). And once we dangle carrots in front of Syria then we have the leverage to influence them on the Israel/Hizbollah front.

A classic diplomat like Gates can do a lot. Diplomacy isnt as sexy as military solutions but as Gary Hart says, we are a multipolar power. Gates is the right man to start flexing those muscles that have atrophied. Diplomacy is arguably more effective than brute force - especially in a cauldron like the ME - because everyone has a stake in the outcome.

Almost three years ago I asked, Is there any organizing principle to the Bush administration? And I concluded that there was little evidence thereof. Haven't seen any reason to change my mind, either.

The question I have re: Gates is where his ties and loyalties are re: the intel community. If he begins subtly (or not so subtly) unravelling
Rumsfeld's creation of DOD agencies to do what the CIA etc. should have been doing (but didn't) then we are in big trouble.

Gates is a CIA man through and through. That should be answer enough. Could that organization possibly be more disfunctional and flat out wrong? Its to the point where if you want an inkling of the truth, just find our what the CIA is claiming and believe the opposite. Why in gods name Bush would reach into that morass to pull out a leader for the one institution that has served him well is beyond me.

Gates' major change will be to treat Iran and Syria as the rational actors they are.

Indeed, given that Iranian goals include:
a. the eradication of Israel (to which end, Hizbullah and Hamas and other rejectionist Palestinian groups are being armed and trained).
b. enabling radical Shia control of Lebanon, via Hezbullah (leading to point a., above).
c. gaining (along with Iranian allies) undisputed control of energy supplies and markets (provision and, more importantly, disruption), to be used as a tool for blackmail and extortion (leading to point a., above)
d. supremacy in the Gulf...and beyond
e. hobbling the power of the US (starting with hobbling American resoluteness)---by a combination of threats, inducements, promises, warnings and threats---since the US, rightly or wrongly, is perceived as the sole potential hindrance to Iranian ambitions...

...and Syrian goals include:
f. a kingmaker role in Lebanon leading to...
g. unencumbered mastery over Lebanon, Lebanese territory, and Lebanese assets, which Syria already regards as belonging to Syria in any event---and ultimate mastery over what is now (on some maps, at least) referred to as "Israel," the Palestinian territories, and of course Jordan (see "Greater Syria")...

...both Syria and Iran are proceeding extremely rationally (even if Hezbullah has proven a tad precocious).

(Which is more than can be said about the West....)

Regarding Gates, this analysis is worth a glance.

Needless to say, further evidence of Iranian rationality---if any were needed---are its establishment of footprints in Iraq and northern South America.

Boring suggestion: Bush thought that the Republicans would hold the Senate. If they held the Senate, he could replace Rumsfeld at any time with anyone of his choosing. Now he's rushing someone through the Lame Duck session.

Therefore, I assume Bush realized that Rumsfeld's position was becoming untenable, that he would rather keep him for now, but the election forced his hand.

Joe:

What do you think of recent suggestions that Sadr may no longer hold much influence with his thugs?

Example

Interesting regarding Sadr- and another reason simply offing him was never a very useful plan.

This goes to what i've been saying, our #1 intractible problem that makes all the other problems moot is the power vacuum. No-one is in control of Iraq. Iraqi government forces are either co-opted, inept, absent, or at best untrusted. Coallition forces just cant come close to covering enough ground.

Every jumped up street gang can control whatever territory they can muscle, whether they were Sadrian goons last week and will be again next week is just a matter of trivia. Today they are warlords or at least mafia dons. All this reevaluation of strategy would be hilarious if it wasnt tragic. There is no security, everything else is pointless. In this atmosphere the Iraqi forces cant be developed, much less fielded- and that CANT change until some sanity is imposed... by us. Debating Syria and Iran's role is about as useful as debating who installed the wiring in a house full of burning orphans. Lets contain the fire before we try figuring out how to stop the arson.

We are pawns in an ongoing chess game. Events taking place now were planned months ago. Rumsfeld's resignation took place so the plan would not be undermined; some would have seen the plan as purely political. The objective is victory in Iraq, and one of the steps to be taken will be to increase troop levels; including a significant contribution from NATO. We now see this plan unfolding:
  1. Rumsfeld resigns
  2. Gates is appointed
  3. Generals Zinni and Batiste, critics of Rumsfeld, lambast any pullout plan; call for increased troop levels

But, you ask, how does Gates fit in? Answer: To bring NATO on board. He has diplomatic skills reminiscent of Eisenhower and European contacts from his days at the CIA. I suspect that the Europeans have already benn brought into the plan.

The next phase is the report from the Iraq Survey Group (ISG).

To get ideas on direction of the (ISG) I have gone to its website and found a listing of four Expert Working Groups and a Military Aadvisory Group; all providing guidance to the ISG members.

After researching some of the group participants, and reading their recent articles relevant to Iraq, I have found solace. The articles provide a refreshing reprieve from the MSM/Blog/Wash hysteria. They are scholarly and honest, and should reveal direction of the ISG.
To date I've read, based on facts and solid reasoning, that;
  • Removal of troops from Iraq will not reduce the violence
  • Premature withdrawal/redeployment will have worldwide catastrophic results
  • The troops should stop hunkering down in the forward operating bases; they need to engage with the Iraqi population.
  • Reconstruction teams need to be more active, given more responsibility and better funded; this should be a State Department/Civilian task, it is falling too much on shoulders of the military.
  • Neutralization of the insurents should be the main focus; the militias will disband when the insurgent problem is taken care of
  • The best outcome will be a negotiated settlement with the insurgents, but this will only occur when they are convinced of our resolve
  • Nation-building works, is necessary, and is cost effective, provided that adquate resources (military and financial) are invested
Based on these readings, I confidently predict that the ISG report will propose:
  1. A new strategy for victory, not withdrawal
  2. Increased funding and responsibility for the reconstruction teams
  3. An increase in U.S. troop levels
  4. A signific participation by NATO forces

JP

Ralph Peters hits the nail on the head.

My fear is that the answer is far, far simpler than you think.

What if the President refuses to budge? After all, the spin now is, "We're going to stay the course, but we've got some new strategies to make that happen."

That could mean we're going to do some things differently, of unknown efficacy.

Unfortunately, in many organizations that's beuro speak for, "We're going to do the same thing we've always done while paying lip service to those damn consultants and their irritating demands for change."

Now ask yourself this:

If the President is unable or unable to change course in Iraq, either by cleaning up OUR OWN corruption, putting the nation on a wartime footing and TRULY occupying Iraq, or by ceding defeat, withdrawing, and letting the Iraqi's find their own bloody equilibrium...

Would YOU want the job? And if not, what kind of person would?

#16

Jesus Christ coming down on a cloud couldn't convince the Europeans to put soldiers in Iraq.

Joe K:

This was a terrible missed opportunity. Gates in for Rumsfeld in 2004? Sure. What the hell.

But now? At the end of 2006? A disastrous missed opportunity.

Mr. Bush needed an appointee who could take over Iraq policy and be able to speak to the American people independantly of a president who is simply ignored by two thirds of the population. He needed a viceroy not one of Dad's apparatchiks.

McCain, Hagel, Wes Clark, Sam Nunn, David Petraeus -- forget the no-ex-generals thing. He needed someone who could leverage his personal credibility and standing and talk to moderates and independents.

Stupid move, wasted opportunity, game over.

m. takhallus (#19)

You're right. These days, the guy riding the cloud would have to be Mohammed.

Mark (#17) Ralph Peters does hit the nail on the head, exactly.

"With Iraqi society decomposing - or, at best, reverting to a medieval state with cell phones - the debate in Washington over whether to try to save the day by deploying more troops or withdrawing some is of secondary relevance.

What really matters is what our forces are ordered - and permitted - to do. With political correctness permeating our government and even the upper echelons of the military, we never tried the one technique that has a solid track record of defeating insurgents if applied consistently: the rigorous imposition of public order.

That means killing the bad guys. Not winning their hearts and minds, placating them or bringing them into the government. Killing them.

If you're not willing to lay down a rule that any Iraqi or foreign terrorist masquerading as a security official or military member will be shot, you can't win. And that's just one example of the type of sternness this sort of fight requires.

....From the Iraqi perspective, we're of less and less relevance. They're sure we'll leave. And every faction is determined to do as much damage as possible to the other before we go. Our troops have become human shields for our enemies.

To master Iraq now - if it could be done - we'd have to fight every faction except the Kurds. Are we willing to do that? Are we willing to kill mass murderers and cold-blooded executioners on the spot?

If not, we can't win, no matter what else we do.

Arrest them? We've tried that. Iraq's judges are so partisan or so terrified (or both) that they release the worst thugs within weeks - sometimes within days.

How would you like to be one of Iraq's handful of relatively honest cops knowing that any terrorist or sectarian butcher you bust is going to be back on the block before your next payday? And yeah, they know where you live.

Our "humanity" is cowardice masquerading as morality. We're protecting self-appointed religious executioners with our emphasis on a "universal code of behavior" that only exists in our fantasies. By letting the thugs run the streets, we've abandoned the millions of Iraqis who really would prefer peaceful lives and a modicum of progress.

We're blind to the fundamental moral travesty in Iraq (and elsewhere): Spare the killers in the name of human rights, and you deprive the overwhelming majority of the population of their human rights. Instead of being proud of ourselves for our "moral superiority," we should be ashamed to the depths of our souls.

We're not really the enemy of the terrorists, militiamen and insurgents. We're their enablers. In the end, the future of Iraq will be determined by its people. The question is, which people?

Our naive version of wartime morality handed Iraq to the murderers. Will our excuse for a sectarian bloodbath be that we "behaved with restraint?"

If i'm Bush, i go to Abizaid under cover of this Baker report and have him send a message to Maliki- that being he has exactly 2 choices:

1) keep his mouth shut while we somehow dig up another hundred thousand troops to lock down Baghdad by whatever means necessary (including embedding US officers and NCOs in Iraqi military units, which should have been done ages ago). We then establish a metrics based timeline to draw back down troop levels once Iraqi units of actual quality can be brought online and the ministries can be de-ratted.

2) Make an issue of it, in which case we use the Baker report and democratic takeover to do the opposite and we draw down starting inside of 6 months and dont look back. Good luck and have a nice day.

Everything else being talked about is re-arrangeing deck chairs. Syria, Iran, the other neighbors, Europe- none of them can do squat until we bring order to Iraq, and particularly Baghdad. Peters is dead-on: winning hearts and minds and all the other swell ideas we decided were our priorities are completely worthless if we cant impose security.

following is what jack wheeler says bout gates:
Bobby Gates' nickname at the CIA was The Little Prick. He is a pompous, incompetent, squishy witless fool. He is the total tool of the Jimmy Baker-Brent Scowcroft crowd that so horribly ran foreign affairs for GW's daddy. To put such a man in charge of the Pentagon - the one bastion of pro-Americanism remaining in our foreign policy establishment - is an unmitigated catastrophe.

Bush's only chance to rescue his presidency is to fight the left - and he has capitulated to them, already, within hours!

Which means the conservative movement is about to turn on the son as it did upon the father - for the son has morphed into his father. But it better be smart about how it does so, or else it will drive Bush further into being a Dhimmi to the Democrats.

Conservatives have got to force Bush to understand that his war in Iraq is unpopular not because he is waging it but because he is not winning it. Americans don't like to lose to their enemies. Turning the Pentagon over to The Little Prick guarantees the war will be lost and Iran-Syria will win.

Thus every effort must be made to get the Senate to reject Gates' nomination.

This has got to be the first battle cry of the Right - and must be followed by many others: The demand that we win, that we cease negotiations with Iran, destabilize it instead, and do the same with Syria.

Conservatives can get back in the race by blocking this awful nomination. They did it with Harriet Miers, it can be done with Little Bobby. Then they can race for a decent Secretary of Defense, a nomination that would enable us to win in Iraq, a nomination that would drive the Defeatocrats crazy.

Thus you'll soon see conservatives demand that Bush withdraw the Gates nomination, replacing it with that of... Rick Santorum.
www.tothepointnews.com

Gates is a CIA man through and through. That should be answer enough.

He was, perhaps. There's been a lot of turnover in the senior ranks since his day, though. My suspicion is that he's more the man of his sponsors, including Bush Sr. who was DCI. The issue is where THEY come down re: the intel mess.

Gates' appointment is better than Harriet Miers, but leaves me more than a little worried. I'm no fan of the Baker/Scowcroft crowd. The only possible positives I can conjure up for this is a) it might lessen the CIA leaks to the NYT and b) it might signal Saudi support for a major attack on Iran. But of course, dancing with the Magic Kingdom always costs a soul or two, no matter how much the Bush Sr. crowd (and Clinton and others) get paid for speaking and consulting gigs in their world.

The Pentagon and Langley would chew Santorum up and spit him out before the paint was dry on his door sign. He really lacks the qualifications and power base needed for this tough job IMO.

#24

So, in your universe the looming defeat in Iraq is the fault of the man who has not yet taken over as SecDef. . . and the conservative wing of the GOP will wrestle both the Dems and the moderate Republicans to the ground . . . and install Santorum as SecDef.

You don't really follow politics much do you.

Joe "Kill them all' Katzman is insane.

Joe "Kill them all' Katzman is insane.

#24

Yes, the obvious solution to appointing a political hack with too much experience is to reject him and appoint a political hack with no experience.

That'll work...

Joe, I'm making a formal request that WoC kickban "ken", based on #28-#29. Don't delete the posts, by any means.

Have a nice day, ken -- somewhere else.

#31 from Nortius Maximus: "Joe, I'm making a formal request that WoC kickban "ken", based on #28-#29."

Seconded.

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