(Full disclosure: Ray McGovern is indebted to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld
for TV notoriety on May 4, when McGovern's
impromptu questioning after a Rumsfeld speech in Atlanta elicited
denials later shown to be false after fact-checks by the TV networks. McGovern's
acquaintance with Robert Gates, whom the president has picked to succeed Rumsfeld,
goes back 36 years to when Gates was a journeyman analyst in the CIA's Soviet
foreign policy branch led by McGovern.)
As the Iraq war goes from bad to worse, President
George W. Bush jettisoned "stay the course" in favor of "necessary
adjustments." Yesterday he showed how quickly he can adjust to the midterm
election results when he jettisoned Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, barely
a week after telling reporters Rumsfeld was doing a "fantastic job"
and that he wanted him to stay on for the next two years.
It had been clear for weeks that the election would be a referendum on the
war in Iraq and that Republican losses would be substantial. And Rumsfeld and
Bush had every intention of avoiding the embarrassment likely to come of the
grilling of Rumsfeld by congressional committees chaired by Democrats. Besides,
who better to try to blame for the "long, hard slog" in Iraq than
the fellow who coined the expression, and then implemented it with dubious distinction?
I have the sense that Rumsfeld offered himself as scapegoat for Iraq, not only
to avoid another acrimonious
tangle with Sen. Hillary Clinton, but also to help Bush project an image
of flexibility and decisiveness to cope with the imminent sea change in Congress.
Neoconservatives Eat Their Own
Former allies are among those now denouncing him.
The abandonment is enough to pin down even an old wrestler like Rumsfeld, but
perhaps the most unkindest cut of all came from long-standing supporter "Cakewalk
Ken" Adelman who, like other neoconservatives, has turned mercilessly
on his old, now discredited friend. In an interview for David Rose's "Neo
Culpa" in Vanity Fair, Adelman came across as feeling jilted.
"We're losing in Iraq. … I've worked with [Rumsfeld] three times in
my life. I've been to each of his houses in Chicago, Taos, Santa Fe, Santo Domingo,
and Las Vegas. I'm very, very fond of him, but I'm crushed by his performance.
Did he change, or were we wrong in the past? Or is it that he was never really
challenged before? I don't know. He certainly fooled me."
As the saying goes, with friends like that, who needs Hillary? Or a pummeling
by the Army-Navy-Air Force-Marine Corps Times?
I almost feel sorry for Donald Rumsfeld (and I'm not just saying that because,
with the Military Commissions Act now signed into law, he can declare me – or
anyone – an unlawful enemy combatant and "disappear" me into some
black hole for the rest of my days). What betrayal. What disingenuousness. Et
tu, Cakewalk Ken? The neoconservatives are attempting to push the blame
onto Rumsfeld for the debacle they authored. Parallel attempts by administration
officials to scapegoat Rumsfeld will be equally transparent and unconvincing.
cabal" may now be down to one. But there is every sign that Cheney
will continue to be the dominant force in the White House, and he recently asserted,
"You cannot make national security policy on the basis of [elections].
It may not be popular with the public. It doesn't matter, in the sense that
we have to continue the mission [in Iraq]."
Granted, Cheney made those comments before the election. But it is virtually
certain that Bush vetted with Cheney the nomination of Robert Gates to succeed
Rumsfeld and, if past experience is precedent, it is a virtual certainty that
Gates will continue to earn an A+ for "loyalty." Look for a "Cheney-Gates
Gates has been getting unduly positive press treatment since the announcement
of his nomination. This is in part due to his participation in the realist-led
Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel tasked with devising plans to stabilize
Iraq. There's hope that Gates will help push through the group's recommendations.
It is always possible that Gates really will bring, in the president's words,
"a fresh perspective and new ideas on how America can achieve our goals
in Iraq," but to those of us who have watched Gates parrot and implement
White House policies – not create new ones – this seems a long shot. And as
noted yesterday by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who will probably chair the House
International Affairs Committee,
"You can't unscramble the omelet and the tremendous mistakes
that were made after major military operations; I don't see any magical solutions."
It seems only fair at the outset to give Gates the benefit of the doubt. He
can hardly match the disaster Rumsfeld wrought with his fancy language and fanciful
ideas, but that is damning with faint praise. Unless Gates' years outside the
Beltway have wrought major behavioral change, Gates will bend to the wishes
of Cheney and Bush and avoid taking stands on principle. While it is one thing
to give him the benefit of the doubt; it is quite another to be oblivious to
the considerable baggage he brings with him from past service.
An Intelligence "Fixer"
Those of us who had a front-row seat to watch
Gates' handling of substantive intelligence can hardly forget the manner in
which he cooked it to the recipe of whomever he reported to. A protégé
of William Casey, President Ronald Reagan's CIA director, Gates learned well
from his mentor. In 1995, Gates told the Washington Post 's Walter Pincus
that he watched Casey on "issue after issue sit in meetings and present
intelligence framed in terms of the policy he wanted pursued." Gates followed
suit, cooking the analysis to justify policies favored by Casey and the White
House. And the cooking was consequential.
I was amused to read this morning in David Ignatius' column
in the Washington Post that Gates "was the brightest Soviet analyst
in the [CIA] shop, so Casey soon appointed him deputy director overseeing his
fellow analysts." He wasn't; and Casey had something other than expertise
in mind. Talk to anyone who was there at the time – except the sycophants Gates
co-opted to do his bidding – and they will explain that Gates' meteoric career
had most to do with his uncanny ability to see a Russian under every rock turned
over by Casey. Those of Gates' subordinates willing to see two Russians became
branch chiefs; three won you a division. I exaggerate only a little.
To Casey, the Communists could never change and Gorbachev was simply cleverer
than his predecessors. With his earlier training in our branch, and with his
doctorate in Soviet affairs, Gates clearly knew better. Yet he carried Casey's
water and stifled all dissent. One result was that the CIA as an institution
missed the implosion of the Soviet Union – no small oversight. Another result
was a complete loss of confidence in CIA analysis on the part of then-Secretary
of State George Shultz and others who smelled the cooking. In July 1987, in
the wake of the Iran-Contra affair, he told Congress, "I had come to have
grave doubts about the objectivity and reliability of some of the intelligence
I was getting."
And well he might. For example, in the fall of
1985 there was an abrupt departure from CIA's analytical line that Iran was
supporting terrorism. On Nov. 22, 1985, the agency reported that Iranian-sponsored
terrorism had "dropped off substantially" in 1985, but no evidence
was adduced to support that key judgment. Oddly, a few months later CIA's analysis
reverted back to pre-November 1985 with no further mention of any drop-off in
Iranian support for terrorism.
The U.S. illegally shipped Hawk missiles to Iran in late November 1985. When
questions were raised about this in the summer of 1987, Stephen Engelberg of
the New York Times quoted senior CIA official Clair George: "There
was an example of a desperate attempt to try to sort of prove something was
happening to make the policy [arms Iran for hostages] look good, and it wasn't."
Also in 1985 Gates commissioned and warped a National Intelligence Estimate
suggesting that Soviet influence in Iran could soon grow and pose a danger to
U.S. interests. This also formed part of the backdrop for the illegal arms-for-hostages
deal with Iran.
More serious still was Gates' denial of awareness of Oliver North's illegal
activities in support of the Contra attacks in Nicaragua, despite the fact that
senior CIA officials claimed they had informed Gates that North had diverted
funds from the Iranian arms sales for the benefit of the Contras. The independent
counsel for the Iran-Contra investigation (1986-93), Lawrence Walsh, later wrote
in frustration that Gates "denied recollection of facts 33 times."
In 1991, when President George H. W. Bush nominated Robert Gates for the post
of director of Central Intelligence, there was a virtual insurrection among
CIA analysts who had suffered under his penchant for cooking intelligence. The
stakes for integrity of analysis were so high that many still employed at the
agency summoned the courage to testify against the nomination. But the fix was
in, thanks to then-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee David Boren and
his staff director, George Tenet. The issue was considered so important, however,
that 31 senators voted against Gates when the committee forwarded his nomination.
Never before or since has a CIA director nominee received so many nay votes.
Gates is the one most responsible for institutionalizing the politicization
of intelligence analysis by setting the example and promoting malleable managers
more interested in career advancement than in the ethos of speaking truth to
power. In 2002, it was those managers who then-CIA Director George Tenet ordered
to prepare what has become known as the "Whore of Babylon" – the Oct.
1 National Intelligence Mis-Estimate on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
He instructed them to adhere to the guidelines set by Vice President Dick Cheney
in his infamous, preemptive speech of Aug. 26, 2002, and complete it in three
weeks – in order to force a congressional vote before the midterm election.
To their discredit, the managers complied and issued the worst NIE in the history
of American intelligence.
All those quoted in the press yesterday and this morning regarding the Gates
nomination seem blissfully unaware of this history – all, that is, but Rep.
Rush Holt (D-N.J.), who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Pointing out
Gates' reputation for putting pressure on analysts to shape their conclusions
to fit administration policies, Holt told the press yesterday that the nomination
is "deeply troubling," and stressed that the confirmation hearings
"should be thorough and probing."
Reprinted courtesy of TomPaine.com.