Wrong man to replace Rumsfeld

November 10, 2006|By Melvin A. Goodman

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation has unloaded a great deal of unwelcome baggage for the Bush administration, but the nomination of Robert M. Gates is unlikely to help resolve the disastrous war in Iraq or the uniformed military's opposition to the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. Unlike successful secretaries of defense in the recent past, Mr. Gates lacks essential experience in military and industrial affairs and has had serious problems with the congressional confirmation process.

Two previous presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, nominated Mr. Gates for the position of director of central intelligence. In 1987, Mr. Gates had to withdraw his name because a majority of Senate Intelligence Committee members did not believe his denials regarding prior knowledge of the Iran-contra scandal. The independent counsel in the Iran-contra investigation, Lawrence E. Walsh, shared their disbelief.

In 1991, Mr. Gates was confirmed after receiving more than 30 negative votes, far more than any other nominee to the position of CIA director had garnered over nearly six decades. Key senators were convinced in 1991 that Mr. Gates had a major role in the politicization of intelligence on the Soviet Union, Central America and Southwest Asia. During his testimony, Mr. Gates, known for his outstanding memory, testified 33 times that he did not have any recollection of the facts of Iran-contra.

Mr. Gates became the first career CIA analyst to take over the reins of the agency, ultimately doing more harm to the mission and mandate of the CIA's intelligence directorate than any previous director - even his mentor, William J. Casey. His strong ideological agenda in support of the White House often led him down the wrong analytical road, causing him to be wrong about the central issues of the day involving the decline and fall of the Soviet Union and the impact of ethnic violence on regional conflicts.

Some of his statements led to strong and unprecedented reprimands from Secretaries of State George P. Shultz and James A. Baker III. In 1987, Mr. Shultz confronted Mr. Gates and told him, "You have a big, powerful machine not under good control. I distrust what comes out of it." In 1989, Mr. Baker had to stop a speech against Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev that Mr. Gates was going to deliver that would have compromised Mr. Baker's diplomatic initiatives.

As deputy to Mr. Casey in the 1980s, he developed a reputation as a political windsock, serving the director's extreme ideological agenda. During his 25 years at the CIA and the National Security Council, Mr. Gates repeatedly failed a critical test - telling truth to power, which is essential to the intelligence and policy communities.

In his previous positions at the CIA and the NSC, Mr. Gates earned a reputation as a micromanager (a trait he shares with Mr. Rumsfeld), lacking confidence in his subordinates and immersing himself in the minutiae of decision-making. This will not work in the Pentagon, the most powerful and difficult department in Washington's vast national security empire. He presumably would want to replace the senior civilian leadership that has earned the scorn of the uniformed military, and he will need a great deal of time to get up to speed on such difficult issues as Iran, North Korea and weapons procurement - let alone the challenges of the Iraq war.

Nearly two years ago, Mr. Gates turned down the position of director of national intelligence because of the endemic problems of the intelligence community. Now he would confront the even more serious problem of managing a $450 billion defense budget and the service rivalries in the Pentagon.

Finally, it is particularly troubling that President Bush, who marched this country into an unnecessary and costly war on the basis of specious and even fabricated intelligence, is turning to Mr. Gates, who has a reputation for politicizing intelligence. This suggests that the president is not open to real change with respect to Iraq; instead, he is circling the wagons with another loyal and obedient subordinate who will not question the wisdom of the pre-emptive use of military force in Iraq or the wisdom of pursuing "victory" in Iraq.

In appointing Mr. Gates to head the Pentagon, Mr. Bush is running the risk of further poisoning the tense atmosphere at the Department of Defense. It is up to the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to look past Mr. Gates' glittery r?sum? and to assess whether he has acquired the maturity and integrity to manage the huge military bureaucracy.

Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, was an analyst at the CIA from 1966 to 1990. His e-mail is goody789@comcast.net.

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