Thursday, March 03, 2011

Ray McGovern on Robert Gates' newfound agnosticism about the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Ray McGovern has weighed in on the speech by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on February 25 that I discussed in a previous post in How to Read Gates's Shift on the Wars Consortium News 03/02/2011. This was the speech in which the SecDef warned against getting involved in more wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan in the future.

McGovern, who was once Gates' supervisor at the CIA, looks at the statement in the context of Gates' career ambitions. The SecDef's skepticism about the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars certainly seems on the face of it to be a recent revelation:

In his first months at the Pentagon, Gates certainly didn't seem like a hesitant skeptic about the war policies. He played a key role in helping President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney escalate the war in Iraq and thus make their escape into the sunset without having lost a war on their watch.

That was 90 percent of what the celebrated "surge" of troops into Iraq was about, staving off an obvious defeat, even if it cost the lives of an additional 1,000 or so U.S. soldiers and many more Iraqis. ...

Then, after he was kept on by Obama, Gates supported a similar "surge" in Afghanistan, pushing for a 40,000-troop increase in late 2009. Obama groused that Gates and the generals wouldn’t provide a meaningful set of alternative options to the escalation, but Obama finally relented and sent 30,000 more troops.
McGovern concedes that one cannot rule out such a dawning of revelation. But he thinks it's more likely that Gates is playing the career game as follows:

Yet, I would venture to suggest that – more likely – the timing of Gates’s conversion can be pinned on two other factors, a typically windsock reaction to recent polling on Afghanistan and an attempt to burnish his future wise-man reputation:

--U.S. public opinion has swung dramatically against the war in Afghanistan, with some polls showing that as many as 86 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans want a speedier U.S. pullout from the war.

--Gates has announced he will retire in the coming months. By abandoning his post on the bridge of the sinking pro-war ship now, Gates will let the next secretary of defense take the blame when the U.S. does not "prevail" in Afghanistan. Gates can point to his echoing of MacArthur's warning [against ground wars in Asia].
Gates' career is a reminder of how previous official misconduct can haunt policy for decades to come:

More serious still was Gates's denial of any awareness of Oliver North's illegal activities in support of the Contra attacks in Nicaragua, despite the fact that senior CIA officials testified that they had informed Gates that they suspected North had diverted funds from the Iranian arms sales for the benefit of the Contras.

Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel for the Iran-Contra investigation (1986-93), later wrote in frustration that, despite Gates’s highly touted memory, he "denied recollection of facts thirty-three times."

Gates's dubious explanations about the Iran-Contra scandal forced the withdrawal of his first nomination to be CIA director when he was supposed to replace Casey who died in May 1987. Gates's career appeared to be at a dead end, but in 1989, President George H.W. Bush gave him a spot as deputy national security adviser.
The lack of real legal accountability for high-level officials breaking the law is a very bad tradition - and it really has become a tradition in American politics and government. Although the Republicans will surely make an exception if they think they can pin some real or imagined crime on Barack Obama, just as they did in Clinton's impeachment. There are many reasons that Obama's Look Forward Not Backward policy on Cheney-Bush Administration crimes is a bad one.

Keeping Gates on as SecDef from the previous Administration was one more aspect of the larger Democratic willingness to not hold the previous Administration responsible in even the political sense for misconduct and failures.

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