November 12, 2006

The Pitfall of Diminished Expectations

Immediately after the Republican Party lost control of Congress, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tendered his long-overdue resignation from President George W. Bush's cabinet. Although Rumsfeld was an architect of what may well be the worst foreign policy disaster for the United States in the last 100 years, and despite repeated calls for his dismissal, Mr. Bush had declared less than two weeks before the 2006 mid-terms that he intended to keep the beleaguered head of the Pentagon on the job through the end of his presidency. Just one day after the elections however, the President essentially admitted he had lied to reporters about his intention to keep Rumsfeld, and announced that he was being replaced with Robert M. Gates.

Mr. Gates, who has been serving as President of Texas A&M University, is by nearly all accounts professionally qualified to run the Department of Defense, but there remain serious concerns about whether or not he told the truth regarding what he knew about the Iran-Contra Scandal (from the Wayne Madsen Report; scroll to November 9):

Defense Secretary-designate Robert Gates (is) in position to know about the Iran-Contra scandal. The Final Report of Judge Lawrence Walsh, the Independent Counsel for Iran-Contra Matters, issued on Aug. 4, 1993, concluded, "Robert M. Gates was the Central Intelligence Agency's deputy director for intelligence (DDI) from 1982 to 1986. He was confirmed as the CIA's deputy director of central intelligence (DDCI) in April of 1986 and became acting director of central intelligence in December of that same year. Owing to his senior status in the CIA, Gates was close to many figures who played significant roles in the Iran/contra affair and was in a position to have known of their activities."

The report continued, "Gates was an early subject of Independent Counsel's investigation, but the investigation of Gates intensified in the spring of 1991 as part of a larger inquiry into the Iran/contra activities of CIA officials. This investigation received an additional impetus in May 1991, when President Bush nominated Gates to be director of central intelligence (DCI)."

Walsh re-focused on Gates after Clair E. George, the CIA's Deputy Director for Operations stonewalled the prosecutor on the role of Gates in Iran-Contra crimes. Walsh reserved the right to re-open the investigation of Gates but was stymied by the non-cooperation of George and Gates. Walsh said new information "could have warranted reopening his inquiry [of Gates], including testimony by Clair E. George, the CIA's former deputy director for operations. At the time Independent Counsel reached this decision [not to prosecute Gates], the possibility remained that George could have provided information warranting reconsideration of Gates's status in the investigation. George refused to cooperate with Independent Counsel and was indicted on September 19, 1991. George subpoenaed Gates to testify as a defense witness at George's first trial in the summer of 1992, but Gates was never called."

It is clear from the Walsh Report that Gates was an integral part of the illegal network that sold TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon and that proceeds from the arms sales were illegally diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras. That put Gates inside a web of conspirators in the illegal arms sales and money transfers who included Oliver North, National Security Adviser John Poindexter, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, intermediaries Manucher Ghorbanifar, Albert Hakim, Mohsen Kangarlu, and Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, Hashem Rafsanjani (the nephew of Iranian leader Ali Akbar Rafsanjani), and other senior CIA officials...

... Gates obfuscation on Iran-Contra continues to this day. As President of Texas A&M University, Gates has been the host for the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library. In the bowels of the library are presidential papers that could shine a bright light on the Iran-Contra scandal. However, in November 2001, George W. Bush signed an executive order that upended the 1978 Presidential Records Act and permits the Bush Iran-Contra papers to be kept secret in perpetuity. The executive order also affects 60,000 pages of papers from the Reagan Presidential Library that include details of then-Vice President George H. W. Bush's role in Iran-Contra.

Of even greater worry than his role in Iran-Contra, however, are the repeated allegations that Gates politicized intelligence when he was at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Considering that just such politicization was a key factor in the Bush Administration's selling of the Iraq invasion to the American people, this simply cannot be ignored. Although he is considered to have done a largely creditable job at the CIA, it is important to remember that a number of his contemporaries recall his editing of intelligence to fit policy rather than to shape it. As MSNBC reported:
When he heard today about Gates's nomination, “I nearly choked on my sandwich,” said Mel Goodman, a former Soviet analyst at the CIA who testified against Gates’s nomination to be CIA director in 1991. “This is not a guy who’s ever been accused of speaking truth to power. If you’re looking for somebody who’s going to change Iraq policy, he’s hardly the guy to do it. The only policy he’s going to consider is what is acceptable to the White House.”

During his 1991 testimony, Goodman testified that Gates, as deputy CIA director, consistently politicized intelligence-community reports about Iran, Nicaragua and Afghanistan in order to cater to the hard-line anti-Soviet policies of the Reagan White House. Gates’s role as deputy CIA director “was to corrupt the process and the ethics of intelligence on all of these issues.” When Goodman protested his actions, Gates “went off like a Roman candle,” Goodman said today. “It was the same kind of manufacturing of intelligence” in the run-up to the Iraq war, Goodman said.
Considering all this, it would not be unreasonable to expect Mr. Gates to be rejected by the new Democratic majority out of hand, but that doesn't appear to be the case. The truth of the matter is that Mr. Rumsfeld did such a horrible job and had such an awful relationship with Congress, that almost any successor will be deemed an improvement. Gates is palatable because he has close ties to the presidency of George H.W. Bush - considered to be representative of "realistic conservativism" as opposed to his son's ideological neoconservatism - and is a member of the Iraq Study Group (ISG), commissioned to reassess the situation in the Persian Gulf and recommend new courses of action in the Iraq War. In many ways, however, these may number among the already-formidable list of reasons he should be rejected as Secretary of Defense.

Of significant concern to the current President Bush, his father and the men of Mr. Bush the elder's administration, is the legacy of this presidency. While Mr. Gates can almost certainly be counted on in a general sense to have the interests of the United States at heart, it is also likely that his actions will be leavened with a strong desire to advance the interests of the Bush family, who are largely responsible for the rehabilitation of his career after Iran-Contra. (See Ron Suskind's excellent The One Percent Doctrine for an account of this type of dynamic in the relationship between President Bush and former CIA Director George Tenet.)

We must not fall into the trap of diminished expectations. A clean break is needed from the recent past, as well as the more distant, and as with the 2006 elections, fresh blood is required to begin righting the ship of state. George W. Bush has done nothing to demonstrate that he values clarity and independence over loyalty, nor, as his repeated attempts to circumvent the Senate with John Bolton's nomination demonstrate, does he appear to be operating in good faith bipartisanship, despite recent claims to such.

While Robert Gates is almost certainly not the worst of all possible choices to be the new Secretary of Defense, he is clearly nowhere near the best. Given the consistent incompetence and negligence that have been the hallmarks of this administration, and the increasingly dire situation in Iraq, it is crucial that we aspire to more than mediocrity. The Senate should reject his nomination.

No comments: