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.