Robert Gates is a poor choice for secretary of defense, but by now everyone should be accustomed to George W. Bush making poor choices.
Gates was so notorious for politicizing intelligence so that it matched the policy decisions of the higher-ups that the first time he was nominated for CIA director, analysts still on active duty testified against his nomination. Politicizing intelligence is the mortal sin of that field of endeavor. It defeats the purpose of gathering intelligence and converts what should be an apolitical source of facts and best judgments into an arm of the government's propaganda machine. It was politicized intelligence that got us into the current mess in Iraq.
Gates is apparently, like United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, a kisser-upper and a kicker-downer.
The first nomination was withdrawn partially as a result of the Iran-Contra affair. Gates, while testifying under oath, claimed not to remember on 33 different occasions. He is supposed to have an excellent memory, but "I don't recall" is the safest answer when you're under oath and don't wish to tell the truth. He claimed not to have known early on that Ollie North was diverting money from the illegal sale of arms to Iran and giving it to the Contras fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
Oddly enough, Gates' return to Washington occurs at the same time Daniel Ortega, the leader of the Sandinistas, has been elected president of Nicaragua. That's one of those interesting coincidences that mean nothing.
In any case, a few years later, Gates was nominated again to be the director of the CIA, and that time, he was approved, though with 31 negative votes in the Senate.
More importantly, Gates has no military experience to speak of. His biography said he served two years in the Air Force. I don't know how somebody can get a commission and serve only two years active duty, but that's what his résumé says.
The rest of his government career was spent at the CIA and in the White House. The Defense Department, with its $450 billion budget, two current wars and the usual service rivalries, is probably one of the most difficult of agencies to manage. There is nothing in Gates' resume that would indicate he has any qualifications likely to prove helpful. If he follows his usual pattern, he will say and do what the president and vice president tell him to say and do. He is, after all, a longtime loyalist of the Bush clan.
The president naturally wants the lame-duck Republican Congress to confirm both Gates and Bolton, who has a recess appointment. It will be a good indicator of how much backbone is left among the Democrats if they block these nominations until they take over in January.
The Washington press corps has, as usual, forgotten all the negatives in Gates' career and is heaping praise on the nomination. Well, in these times, that's to be expected. Most of them were great cheerleaders for the war in Iraq until it started to go sour.
With the president making bad appointments and bad decisions, it's not likely that the last two years of his administration will be an improvement over the first six.
Hopefully, the new Congress will block some of the worst appointments and perhaps find a way to put the brakes on some of his bad decisions. Maybe even Gates will surprise us. His big sin has always been trying to please the people who could advance his career. Perhaps at this point in his life, he no longer feels that need.
November 18, 2006
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.