Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Gates: a dubious saviour

The hearings yesterday on Robert Gates, the new Secretary of Defense, were oh, so chummy and full of hope for a bipartisan future. No significant mention of Iran-Contra or the troubles he ran into the first time Bush 41 tried to promote him to head of the CIA. Pardon me if I register a certain degree of skepticism.

The current atmosphere is based on performance in hearings, not performance in the job. Gates is obviously smooth and well-informed, and deft at playing to all sides. Whether those will be assets when he actually has to make decisions is another matter. Remember it was not so long ago that Don Rumsfeld was the rock star of the administration and now he's the scapegoat.

When he was appointed, there was a flurry of questions as to where Gates stood: was he a traditional conservative, a neoconservative or a Bush family retainer? The answer seems to be that he is a consummate careerist and has been all of those things. He served happily with Brezinski during the Carter administration, then with Casey during the Reagan administration, then with Bush 41 and Scowcroft. Those people represent distinct approaches to U.S. foreign policy -- "realist" Brezinski had significant differences with "realist" Kissinger and his disciple Scowcroft, and both were different from consummate cold warrior "Wild Bill" Casey (head of the CIA under Reagan). Gates accommodated himself to all of them, ending up quite beholden to the Bush family, which was instrumental in getting him into position at Texas A&M.

One of my constant callers, a retired former spook with broad experience, who spent a good deal of time in Texas when Gates was active there, thinks that Gates is a nothing, a glib bootlicker. I don't know for sure, but this guy is often right.

I would prefer to be wrong, but I suspect a lifetime of being all things to all people will lead to trimming, splitting differences and pleasing nobody. I give him a four-month honeymoon.

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