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Big Mistake: Bob Gates at Defense

By       Message Brent Budowsky       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   8 comments

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With Bob Gates as secretary of Defense and Hillary Clinton as secretary of State, what is shaping up is a reunion of strong supporters of the Iraq war. Judgment is not a factor, as promised: Both were wrong on Iraq early and long. Nor is loyalty. Nor is clarity. Nor is principle. I must dissent.

Let’s revisit the Reagan years. At the time, I was working for the House Democratic leadership and when Reagan was meeting with Gorbachev, I and some other Democrats were working with some on the Reagan side on the matter of historic negotiations with the Soviets. Bob Gates, who originally was CIA director, was against this. He even resisted the idea that Gorbachev was different while Reagan, correctly, saw the monumental opportunity and made the most of it, whatever we think of other Reagan policies.

At one of the defining moments in history, Bob Gates was horrendously wrong and his judgment, knowledge and advice was horrendously bad. If the prelude to the Iraq war was a major failure of intelligence, Gates's horrendously bad judgment about U.S.-Soviet affairs, at the height of the Cold War, at the height of dangers of nuclear extermination, and at the height of Reagan's initiatives with Gorbachev, was unspeakably wrong and would have been an unspeakable disaster had Reagan followed his horrendously bad advice.

The Iraq war and the advent of the age of 9/11 were extreme failures of the national security establishment of both parties. You can read the papers today and the rejoicing throughout the national security establishment, virtually all of whom were wrong about Iraq, is palpable.

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Gen. James Jones is five-star and first-rate. He will be outstanding. The rest of the team, however, appears to continue the status quo ante of the establishment that was wrong about Iraq and largely wrong about Iran. The president-elect will be surrounded by people who supported the Iraq war and opposed high-level diplomacy with Iran and went along with the tragic and mistaken consensus that has done so much damage during the Bush years.

I fear this presages a longer American military commitment in Iraq than was discussed during the campaign. What is needed is a premise of a careful, phased withdrawal from Iraq, but what I fear is a premise to stay as long as possible, as strong as possible. I hope I am wrong.

It is more than unfortunate that leaders of great experience and judgment, with a far stronger record of being right, such as Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), were passed over for Bob Gates.

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It is unfortunate that the Democratic Party will appear too weak to appoint one of its own as secretary of Defense, such as Sam Nunn, who was right about Iraq from the start and would have been one of the most qualified individuals to have ever served as secretary of Defense. It is unfortunate that if Nunn were not chosen, the president-elect did not name Chuck Hagel, who was a rock of courage, conviction and correctness as a dissenting Republican.

It is unfortunate that on an issue so momentous as who runs the Pentagon at a time of war, the views that were stated in the campaign, and supported so deeply by the base of the Democratic Party and the new voters and small donors who were the heart of the Obama campaign, are sacrificed so quickly, for Bob Gates.

It appears the die is cast and the deal is done. Hopefully there is still hope for change but if not, I will wish the national security team well and do my modest part to help them succeed.

However, I think this is wrong, and I must dissent.


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Brent Budowsky is a regular columnist on He served as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, responsible for commerce and intelligence matters, including one of the core drafters of the CIA Identities Law. Served (more...)

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