Robert Gates: When will this man be shown to the door?

La ‘nouvelle politique’ bipartisane du Président Obama est déjà fini en ce qui concerne les affaires internes. Le temps est bien arrivé d’appliquer la même leçon dans le domaine des affaires militaires et étrangères. Chef du Pentagon Robert Gates est un dinosaure de l’age Bush qui doit partir.


Une Note par Gilbert Doctorow

Mis à jour vendredi, le 13 février 2009

Robert Gates: When will this man be shown to the door?



by Gilbert Doctorow

Updated February 13, 2009

At his prime time press conference last night, President Barack Obama put aside the ‘new politics’ of bipartisanship which was a central feature of his electoral campaign. He hit out at Republican critics on Capitol Hill who are withholding approval of his $800 billion economic recovery package, calling them apostles of a failed philosophy. He reminded his listeners that the election of November 2008 had been precisely about repudiation of failed theories that got us into the mess.


Coherence dictates that the same rule of partisan scrutiny now be applied to the security and international affairs team which President Obama selected from among the mainstream Democrats and prominent Republicans who got us into the foreign relations mess which constitutes the Bush legacy. I submit that the first to go should be Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is an unrepentant exponent of ‘permanent war.’ A good initial step towards his removal would be to muzzle the Secretary so that he keeps his rude thoughts to himself.


I say this with an eye to the article entitled “A Balanced Strategy: Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age” that he has just published in the January-February issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. In every way, the mind-set and the policies of Secretary Gates make you wonder who indeed won the election of November, 2008, the Democrats or the Republicans.


Straightaway, it must be said that Gates’ article resembles not so much a thoughtful analytical essay as it does a pep talk to his colonels. This pertains especially to the passages devoted to “those cultural traits that have made the U.S. armed forces successful.” However, more generally it reads like a document for internal consumption among the committed.


If I had to find an equivalent in corporate life, I would imagine a company in the health care field, like Johnson & Johnson, where we read in glowing terms about the rising demand for, say, stents, in keeping with the rising incidence of arterial blockages among the male population. Or I would recall the corporate affairs memo to investors from a French manufacturer of replica guns firing pellets claiming that the company’s move into the American market held great promise given that ‘the Americans are armed to the teeth.’ Such literature is not normally fed to the general public, who tend to find it offensive.


The moral equivalent which recurs in Gates’s essay is ‘the American way of war.’ Way of war?

Or as he restates it under the heading Sustaining the Institution: “The ability to fight and adapt to a diverse range of conflicts, sometimes simultaneously, fits squarely within the long history and the finest traditions of the American practice of arms.”


For those of us with a memory of U.S. foreign policy measured in decades and not just in months, there is a terrible sense of déjà vu in Gates argument that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan must be prosecuted through to successful conclusion lest U.S. credibility be put in jeopardy. This is the infamous domino theory that was used to justify the hopeless and horrific war in Vietnam. That war was ultimately lost but the world did not come to an end.


Gates’ call for a ‘significant U.S. military and economic commitment’ to Afghanistan for years to come is totally irresponsible absent a rigorous and well implemented plan for negotiated settlement that involves the country’s neighbors, all of whom are pursuing their own interests on Afghan soil.


However, that is nothing compared to his description of the ongoing war on terror, which will consume vast resources in both military and state-building effort, including promotion of better governance and development programs. The U.S. would be committed over the long term to defeating extremist movements and their ideologies. This is an open-ended obligation at social engineering around the world.


A major component in this policy of dealing with ‘failed states’ so as to deny their use to extremists intent on harming the U.S. is maintaining ‘small wars’ capabilities of the Pentagon. This means not merely the ability to go in and take control, but the capacity to ‘maintain security, provide aid and comfort, begin reconstruction, and prop up local governments and public services.’ In short, Gates is legitimizing American neo-imperialism from now to Kingdom come.


Gates generously wishes to hand back to U.S. Foreign Service, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Information Agency the resources in manpower and budgetary allocations that the Pentagon took over in the days of Donald Rumsfeld when U.S. foreign policy was fully militarized. However, raising the profile of civilian administrators and reducing the presence of the military and their corporate subcontractors is not ‘change we can believe in.’ It is, in fact, the resuscitation of a propaganda and subversion apparatus that w
as dismantled at the end of the Cold War with good reason. And if extremism is genuinely a security threat to the civilized world today, why are we not acting against it in multilateral settings such as the agencies of the United Nations rather than unilaterally, as proposed by Gates?


The thrust of the article is to marshal support for further building the counterinsurgency skills and ability to wage asymmetric or irregular conflict. In rather vivid language, Gates says that the U.S. military has to have ‘an ability to kick down the door’ that is matched by its ‘ability to clean up the mess and even rebuild the house afterward.


Gates feels comfortable enough with his audience to tell us about initiatives that will ‘better integrate and coordinate U.S. military efforts with civilian agencies as well as engage the expertise of the private sector, including nongovernmental organizations and academia.’ Such notions come easily to a former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, but they can only result in a further curtailment of pluralism, undermining the foundations of American democracy.


Turning from the war on terror to ‘conventional threats,’ Gates has the gall to speak about the increase of defense spending by Russia and China and their modernization programs, knowing as he does that the Pentagon budget is greater than all of the rest of the world combined. At the same time, he willfully deprecates the present standing of Russian conventional military strength compared to the Soviet period and so encourages misunderstanding of the nature of the challenge Russia poses in another area, strategic weapons of mass destruction, where existing and planned treaties seek to enforce parity, not American predominance.


Gates’ comments on the Caucasus war of August 2008 do not pass a reality check. He calls it a ‘relatively crude – although brutally effective – conventional offensive’ by the Russians The well-known fact, documented extensively by an OSCE report, that the casus belli was the Georgian assault on the civilian population of Tskhinvali seems not to have caught his attention. He goes on to speak of Russia’s ‘sophisticated cyber attack and well-coordinated propaganda campaign’ against the Georgians. Such statements may go over well among his colonels, but they are an insult to the intelligence of the general readership of Foreign Affairs. If there is one thing the Russians were faulted for during and after the military campaign in Georgia, it was precisely the pitiful nature of their PR activities in the face of the loquacious and well prepared Mikheil Saakashvili who had a CNN microphone in front of his face much of the time.


In speaking about arms supplied to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, Gates irresponsibly points an accusatory finger at the Chinese and Russian arms sales. Coming from the world’s biggest armaments salesman, this is remarkably cheeky


If Gates has any claim to being considered a moderate, it is his call for modesty in the exercise of U.S. power and the recognition that war is hell, with outcomes that are unpredictable even when you have massive technological advantages. However, one may be justified in asking exactly how modest and restrained is the following statement from the penultimate remarks of Gates’ essay in Foreign Affairs:


“The United States is the strongest and greatest nation on earth, but there are still limits on what it can do. The power and global reach of its military have been an indispensable contributor to world peace and must remain so. But not every outrage, every act of aggression, or every crisis can or should elicit a U.S. military response.” [italics mine]


It is refreshing to see such candor, but the mission he blithely assigns to the U.S. military is deplorable and should be recognized as such.


Gates remains outrageous straight to the last paragraph of his essay in which he quotes the historian Donald Kagan on the need for ‘preponderant power’ if you want to preserve the peace as well as ‘the will to accept the burdens and responsibilities.” The authority Gates is citing was one of the signatories of the infamous 1997 Neoconservative manifesto, the Project for the New American Century, alongside such worthies as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. These are the practitioners who turned the George W. Bush presidency into a nightmare of unilateralist American bullying and aggression. That very document anticipated the notion of preemptive military action against possible threats which later became the Bush Doctrine. Is anybody in the Obama administration taking notice? If not, then I am afraid the elections achieved little more than to put an African-American in the White House.


.©Gilbert Doctorow 2009