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Robert Gates Is Pandering to Obama to Keep His Pentagon Gig

Obama needs a defense secretary with the courage to speak out and halt the lunacy of more war, not a yes-man Bush holdover.

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"The Taliban holds no land in Afghanistan and loses every time it comes into contact with coalition forces," Gates explained.

Our secretary of defense is insisting that U.S. troops have not lost one pitched battle with the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Engagements like the one on July 13, 2008, in which "insurgents" attacked an outpost in Konar province, killing nine U.S. soldiers and wounding 15 others, apparently do not qualify as "contact," but are merely "incidents."

Gates ought to read up on Vietnam, for his words evoke a similarly benighted comment by U.S. Army Col. Harry Summers after that war had been lost. In 1974, Summers was sent to Hanoi to try to resolve the status of Americans still listed as missing. To his North Vietnamese counterpart, Col. Tu, Summers made the mistake of bragging, "You know, you never beat us on the battlefield." Colonel Tu responded, "That may be so, but it is also irrelevant."

As Vietnamese Communist forces converged on Saigon in April 1975, the U.S. withdrew all remaining personnel. Summers was on the last Marine helicopter to fly off the roof of the American Embassy at 5:30 a.m. on April 30. As he later recalled, "I was the second-to-the-last Army guy out of Vietnam -- quite a searing experience."

More Vietnams?

Why is this relevant? Because if Obama repeats the mistakes of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, U.S. Marine choppers may be plucking folks not only off the U.S. embassy roof in Baghdad, but also from the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan. No ignoramus, Gates knows that his comments about the Taliban losing "every time" that there is contact with coalition forces is as irrelevant as those of Col. Summers 34 years ago.

Yet, it would be folly to expect Gates to give advice to a superior that challenges the policies that Gates thinks his superior favors. Gates has been the consummate career careerist, going back to his days as head of analysis at CIA in the 1980s when he fashioned intelligence reports that gave the policymakers what they wanted to hear. Instead of the old-fashioned "bark-on" intelligence, the Gates variety was "apple-polished" intelligence.

Time running out for Gates

He wants to stay on as Defense Secretary and apparently thinks that his lifelong strategy of telling his superiors what they want to hear will now work with Barack Obama. Gates is nearing the end of a highly sophisticated campaign to convince Obama and his advisers that the current defense secretary is just who they need at the Pentagon to execute Obama's policies -- and look really bipartisan to boot.

The president-elect's position has long been that we need to send "at least two additional brigades" (about 7,000 troops) to Afghanistan. So the defense secretary would have us believe, as he said Friday, that "surging as many forces as we can" is an outstanding idea. And with troops having to leave Iraqi cities by next June, in the first stage of the U.S. withdrawal demanded by the draft status-of-forces agreement, there will be more soldiers available to send into the mountains of Afghanistan. Don't you love it when a plan comes together?

Ironically, this resembles closely the proposed policy of Sen. John McCain, who argued during the debate with Obama on Sept. 26 that "the same [surge] strategy" that Gen. David Petraeus implemented in Iraq is "going to have to be employed in Afghanistan." For good measure, Gov. Sarah Palin told Katie Couric "a surge in Afghanistan also will lead us to victory there, as it has proven to have done in Iraq."

 
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