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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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Message Jayne Stahl
In a "leaked" classified memo, written two days before his "retirement," outgoing Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, apart from acknowledging that this administration's strategy, in Iraq, needs "a major adjustment" suggested the White House "recast" how they talk about the military operation. Rest assured that when Rumsfeld tells the president to "go minimalist," he isn't talking about troop deployment, or proposed funding for defense; instead, he's referring specifically to "how we talk about them ( U.S. military objectives)." (NYT) That said, he may well be talking about staff reduction in light of how many have tendered their resignations since the president first occupied the Oval Office back in 2000, the latest casualty being John Bolton, a victim of what the president terms "stubborn obstructionism," but what was once called healthy dissent.

But enough about Rumsfeld, and his creative ideas about how best to slant information that the government disseminates about its egregiously flawed foreign policy to its electorate. Whether the release of what can only be seen as a dubiously private memo was timed to exculpate him for posterity, or whether his viewpoint on Iraq differed significantly privately from his public posturing and, like Colin Powell, he was forced to tow the line, or quit; whether he just agreed to be the fall guy so the president, and other senior administration members, don't have to take the hit, the bottom line is Rummy is on his way out, and it's time to focus instead on Robert M. Gates, the Bush nominee to replace him who goes before the Senate Armed Services Committee for confirmation Tuesday.

Those most vocal about Rumsfeld's departure, and the assignation of blame for the failed policy in Iraq, need to take a closer look at the man who was nominated, three weeks ago, to replace him, and the role Gates took in rubberstamping the worldview of a former president, George H.W. Bush. Those, in Congress, who like to think of themselves as progressive need also to ask themselves if, in Robert Gates, we have another presidential yes man like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

What do we know about Gates? Well, for openers, he's the president of Texas A & M University who has a Ph.D. from Georgetown in Russian and soviet history, something to keep in mind when considering former accusations that he fabricated evidence about the threat posed by the Soviet Union and was quite adept at "skewing intelligence to promote a particular worldview." (Wikipedia)

Skewering intelligence, by the way, will prove to be a major asset, in the months ahead, with respect to beating the war drums on Iran, and it's a safe bet that Gates will be an even better spin master than his predecessor. Something else to remember about the former CIA director is that, while he was believed to be up to his ears in the illegal diversion of funds from arms sales to Iran to support the Contras, the so-called Iran/Contra affair, an Independent Counsel assigned to investigate his involvement in the illicit diversion backed off when faced with the daunting challenge of making an indictment stick due to the "reasonable doubt" defense. Clearly, reasonable doubt was not what saved him from indictment, but his proximity to key players in the first Bush administration who themselves tried to cover up their knowledge of the covert sale of arms in exchange for hostages scandal.

Keep in mind, too, while he withdrew his first nomination as CIA director, in 1987, as a result of all the controversy over what is widely acknowledged to be his knowledge of the illegal Nicaraguan operation, he managed to get nominated a second time, in 1991, and prevail under the presidency of George H.W. Bush. Despite the fact that Senate members, 15 years ago, challenged the nomination on the grounds that Gates was alleged to have shared intelligence with Iraq during the Iran/Iraq war, and despite the Independent Counsel's last report on Iran/Contra in August, 2003, that he "was close to many figures who played significant roles in the Iran/contra affair and was in a position to have known of their acitivities," he managed to win confirmation. This is one clever fellow.

Importantly, too, Robert Gates hails from Texas, has worked closely with Bush pere, and is as close to big oil, and big business, or closer than anyone else in this administration with the possible exception of Dick Cheney. He serves as a board member of NACCO Industries, Brinker International, and the Parker Drilling Company, corporations that benefit hugely from military expansionism. Hen ce, among the many questions one might wish to ask the Bush nominee is how can a Secretary of Defense realistically be expected to work for peace, and profit from war?

Two years ago, while co-chair of a task force organized by the Council on Foreign Relations, he recommended engaging Iran diplomatically, and negotiating with that country to ensure that they use their nuclear enrichment program solely for peaceful purposes. One wonders what his current stance towards Iran is today. As a current member of the Iraq Study Group, headed by another prominent member of Bush pere's team, James A. Baker, it will be interesting to find out what suggestions, and/or feedback Gates had while serving on the Study Group. One would hope that the senators on the Armed Services Committee, and/or the full Senate, when called upon to question the Bush nominee, will aggressively address his membership on the boards of various companies that are doing business, have done business, or plan to do business, in the Middle East, as a possible conflict of interest.

It wouldn't hurt either for the defense secretary nominee to take the advice of his predecessor, outgoing defense secretary Rumsfeld, in his November 6th memo, to "Stop rewarding bad behavior, as was done in Fallujah when they pushed in reconstruction funds, and start rewarding good behavior." Think of how many lives were sacrificed in the name of pushing in reconstruction funds. It might also be helpful if Congress keeps that memorable quote from Rumsfeld's memo in mind when it next considers whether to appropriate funds for this failed military adventure, or the next one.

Moreover, as the Senate considers whether to confirm Robert Gates as the new Secretary of the Defense, and both the House and the Senate spend their winter recess contemplating which investigations to pursue when they reconvene, might we suggest that they make time to look into the role reconstruction funding played in the rush to war, as well as the legality of manipulating intelligence.

Make no mistake, confirming Robert Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld is taking one step forward only to go two steps back.

(This piece first appeared on "The Huffington Post")
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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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