Is Robert Gates a Well-Laid Trap?

Stay the course: a played-out phrase that's become synonymous with the Bush administration's bungling of Iraq.

The resignation of Donald Rumsfeld was supposed to be a signal from President Bush that he's finally listening -- that the thumpin' the GOP took in the mid-term elections was supposed to signal an end to stay-the-course-ness.

Then he nominates Robert Gates to be the new Defense Secretary. It's a pretty clever desperation move -- a trap really. Rumsfeld is gone. Bush comes off as a lot more humble in his press conference. He's talking bipartisanship.

But, peep the trap.

Gates and Rummy sip from the same ideological Kool-Aid jug. And if the Dems shoot down the nomination, Bush and wounded Republicans can accuse Democrats of not acting in a spirit of ''bipartisanship.'' Even worse, should the Democrats not confirm Gates, they would be -- are you ready for this -- ''playing politics'' with the all-important position of Secretary of Defense during a war! Voila -- the stage for the 2008 presidential race is set.

Brilliant, in a Machiavellian kind of way.

Now, if you really do want to see a change of course, you have to be asking: Gates? Are you serious?

Gates joined the CIA in the late 1960s and worked his way up the ranks, serving as deputy director from 1986-89. He was nominated to become the head of CIA in 1987, but withdrew his name after it became clear the Democratically-controlled Senate would reject the nomination because of his role in the Iran-Contra affair.

Gates was nominated again for CIA director in1991. He was confirmed, despite questions about his alleged role in giving intelligence to Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war.

Two years later, Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel investigating the Iran-Contra affair, issued his final report. Gates wasn't indicted but he wasn't exactly exonerated either. Walsh wrote that he was skeptical of Gates' repeated denials. ''In blunt terms,'' journalist James Ridgeway wrote in Mother Jones, ''Walsh thought Gates was a liar. It was only for a lack of evidence that he eventually gave up trying to indict him.''

It would be worth asking Gates now if he thinks his efforts to overthrow a democratically-elected government in Nicaragua were successful given Daniel Ortega's recent comeback. And why does he think he'll fare better with Iraq?

But these aren't the only questions hanging over Gates. According to investigative reporter and author Robert Parry, who tracked the CIA in the 1980s, Gates was involved in ''a special team to push through another pre-cooked paper arguing that the KGB was behind the 1981 wounding of Pope John Paul II,'' despite evidence that CIA analysts knew that the claim was bogus.

No surprise, then, that it was on Gates' watch that the CIA failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union -- probably the most embarrassing moment in CIA history.

This politicizing of intelligence is what led Sen. Tom Daschle in the 1991 confirmation hearings to say: ''My questions regarding whether or not Robert Gates participated in the politicization of intelligence culminate in my deep concern about what we can expect from Robert Gates if he is confirmed as the next director of Central Intelligence.

''Again, I ask my colleagues,'' Daschle continued, ''if Robert Gates cooked the books to advocate the ideological position of the administration while serving as deputy director for intelligence and deputy director of Central Intelligence, is it possible that U.S. intelligence under his guidance will continue to politicize intelligence? My answer is, 'We cannot afford to take that chance'.''

Rumsfeld was also criticized for distorting reality and only wanting to hear intelligence that suited his narrow ideology.

Bush says he's in a bipartisan listening mood, but nominates Rumsfeld's ideological body-double? A well-laid trap for staying the course.

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