Thursday, November 09, 2006

Why Gates Shouldn't Be Confirmed

Within hours of the nomination of Robert M. Gates as the new Secretary of Defense, reporters and bloggers were recalling the infamous Iran-Contra scandal, and rightly so. The whole episode has been written about at length in various places and I do not plan to recover the same ground all over again. (Read the links here, here, and here for the full details.)

However, it must be pointed out that Gates was not found innocent of involvement in Iran-Contra. The verdict was left open on the grounds of "insufficient evidence" of complicity - because much of the evidence had been altered, hidden or lost - and careful note was made that should further evidence come to light an indictment might still be issued. The whole issue died, though, and no-one aggresively sought that evidence.

Thus Gates' career survived intact just as it later did when it was rocked by accusations that Gates politicized intelligence over Russia, China and Iran as well as helped aid Iraq during it's long war with Iran despite the U.S.' professed neutrality. Despite these upheavals, which were potentially debilitaing but never went anywhere concrete, Gates has always been seen as a competent but essentially complacent worker, never being innovative and always toeing the administration line to a point some have seen as obsequieous.

Reporters have also noted that Gates is close to the Bush family, especially to George Bush Snr., without really putting any flesh on the bare assertion. However, not only has Gates been president of the university that contains the Bush Snr. library, but his career since leaving office has been intimately entwined with other Bush stalwarts.

In particular, a look at his membership of the Forum For International Policy, where he is a trustee, is illuminating. Other trustees include his old boss Brent Scowcroft and the Chairman of the think-tank is Lawrence Eagleberger, fomer Bush Snr. Secretary of State and director of Halliburton as well as Phillips Petroleum. Until his death, another trustee was Ken Lay, of Enron fame, who was also a close friend of Bush Jr.

Gates is also listed as a consultant for the law firm of Baker, Donelson, Bearrnan and Caldwell (led by former Tennessee senator and Bush Jr.'s ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker)where Eagleberger is senior foreign policy advisor and is now a member of James Baker's Iraq Study Group which is looking into the administration's Iraq policy.

It seems as if, while Bush Jnr was following the neocon star and packing his administration with PNAC signators, the old-guard conservatives of Bush Snr's administration were still active, almost a shadow cabinet. Gates was an integral part of that activity and now, as the neocons failed promises lead to their sidelining, the elder Bush's advisors are coming out into the light as members of the junior's new team. The golden glow of nostalgia may make that an attractive proposition even for some Democrats, especially when compared with junior's team, but the elder Bush presided or had a hand in some serious missteps too. These people are in no way a panacea.

Doubtless all of this will be considered at Gates' nomination hearings. Perhaps it will even be considered in the light of the nomination of David Laufman, one of the elder Bush's main "plumbers," as Pentagon Inspector general. Yet there is another consideration which is not gathering much attention as yet. At the present time, there is a military spook, General Hayden, in charge of the CIA and Gates' confirmation would put a civilian spook in charge of the entire Deprtment of Defense. That, surely, would accelerate the blurring of the lines between the military and civilian law enforcement which became an issue during the Hayden confirmation.
President Bush was expected to name Hayden to replace outgoing CIA Director Porter Goss as early as Monday, before leaving in the afternoon on a three-day trip to Florida.
"I do believe he's the wrong person, the wrong place, at the wrong time," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said on "Fox News Sunday." "We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time."

Hoekstra said having a general in charge of the CIA could create the impression among agents around the world that the agency is under Pentagon control, at a time when the Defense Department and CIA have "ongoing tensions."

If Hayden were nominated and confirmed, military officers would run all the major spy agencies, from the ultra-secret National Security Agency to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Hoekstra's sentiment was echoed by Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who said Hayden's military background would be a "major problem," and several Democrats who made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said Hayden could leave agents with the impression that the CIA has been "just gobbled up by the Defense Department."
The Pose Comitatus act has always been seen as an essential limit on presidential power, and wrapped up within that act is the fundemental notion that the military has no business being in the domestic law-enforcement business. Add an inevitable further blurring of traditional separation between the military and domestic law enforcement, with 50 years of legal revisions and refinement of oversight being abandoned, to the questions which already hang over Gates himself and I firmly believe he is the wrong person for the job.

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