It had been clear for weeks that the election would be a
referendum on the war in Iraq and that Republican losses would
be substantial. And Rumsfeld and Bush saw a mutual need to avoid
the acute political embarrassment that would inevitably attend
Rumsfeld’s grilling by congressional committees chaired by
Democrats. Besides, who better to try to blame for the “long,
hard slog” in Iraq than the fellow who not only coined the
expression but made it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Rumsfeld may even have been willing to acquiesce reluctantly
in serving as scapegoat for the Iraq fiasco. He would have seen
merit not only in avoiding another acrimonious tangle with Sen.
Hillary Clinton, D-New York, but also in helping Bush project an
image of flexibility and decisiveness in the face of the
post-election sea change in Congress.
And one cannot rule out possible pangs of conscience for the
horrific human cost resulting from his supreme arrogance and his
susceptibility to the illusory strategic dreams of “the
crazies”—the so-called “neo-conservatives” whom President George
W. Bush brought back to Washington.
Eating Their Own
Former allies are the most prominent among the legions now
denouncing Rumsfeld. The abandonment is enough to pin down even
an old wrestler like Rumsfeld.
Perhaps the most unkindest cut of all came from longstanding
supporter “Cakewalk-Ken” Adelman who, like other
neo-conservatives, have turned mercilessly on their old, now
discredited friend and colleague. In an interview for David
Rose’s “Neo Culpa” in Vanity Fair, Adelman comes across as
“We’re losing in Iraq,” Adelman said. “I’ve worked with [Rumsfeld]
three times in my life. I’ve been to each of his houses in
Chicago, Taos, Santa Fe, Santo Domingo, and Las Vegas. I’m very,
very fond of him, but I’m crushed by his performance. Did he
change, or were we wrong in the past? Or is it that he was never
really challenged before? I don’t know. He certainly fooled me.”
As the saying goes, with friends like that, who needs
Hillary?...or the kind of pummeling Rumsfeld has already
received from the likes of the Army-Navy-Air Force-Marine Corps
I almost feel sorry for Donald Rumsfeld. And I’m not just
saying that because, with the “Military Commissions Act” now
signed into law, he can declare me—or anyone—an unlawful enemy
combatant, “disappear” me into some black hole, and have me
tortured for the rest of my days.
Rather, it is a conspicuous case of betrayal by fair-weather
friends—and chutzpah-laden disingenuousness. Et tu,
Cakewalk-Ken! The neo-conservatives are attempting to push the
blame onto Rumsfeld for the debacle of which they were the
intellectual authors. Parallel attempts by administration
officials to scapegoat Rumsfeld will be equally transparent and
The “Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal” (coined by Col. Larry Wilkerson
who, as chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin
Powell, was in a position to know) is now down to one.
And how much clout the Vice President has lost with the
election results and departure of his bosom buddy is perhaps the
largest unanswered question. But if Cheney remains éminence
grise and if past is precedent, Gates will defer to
Cheney—probably even more than the President does. For if there
is one distinctive hallmark of Eagle Scout Gates’ career, it is
that he has always earned what might now be called the “Colin
Powell Loyalty Patch”—loyalty to the next person up, whatever
the content of their character.
Gates will help bring, in the President’s words, “a fresh
perspective and new ideas on how America can achieve our goals
in Iraq.” How could he not?
But there are distinct limits to what he can contribute, and
he has never been one to adopt positions independent of what the
boss thinks or says. Most important, as noted this week by Rep.
Tom Lantos, D-California, prospective chair of the House
International Affairs Committee, “You can’t unscramble the
omelet and the tremendous mistakes that were made after major
military operations; I don’t see any magical solutions.”
It seems only fair at the outset to give Gates the benefit of
the doubt. He could conceivably whittle away some of the
influence Cheney has enjoyed over the past six years—the need
for a fresh approach to Iraq being so obvious and urgent. At
very least, Gates can hardly match the disaster Rumsfeld wrought
with his fancy language and fanciful ideas; but this amounts to
damning with faint praise.
Unless Gates’s years outside the Beltway have wrought major
behavioral change, it is highly likely that in the end he will
bend obediently to the wishes of Cheney and Bush. Those close to
Gates now say he has been privately critical of the way the war
has been conducted. But he is the consummate chameleon, with an
extraordinary capability to change colors quickly in adapting to
a new environment.
Clearly the beneficiary of the compared-to-what syndrome,
Gates has been getting unduly positive press treatment since the
announcement of his nomination. It is one thing to give him the
benefit of the doubt; it is quite another to ignore the
considerable baggage he brings with him from past service.
Those of us who had front-row seat to watch Gates’s handling
of substantive intelligence cannot overlook the manner in which
he cooked it to the recipe of whomever he reported to.
A protégé of William Casey, President Ronald Reagan’s CIA
Director, Gates learned well from his mentor. In 1995, Gates
told the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus that he watched Casey
on “issue after issue sit in meetings and present intelligence
framed in terms of the policy he wanted pursued.” Gates followed
suit, cooking the analysis to justify policies favored by Casey
and the White House.
The cooking was consequential. Among other things, it
facilitated not only illegal capers like Iran-Contra but also
budget-breaking military spending against an exaggerated Soviet
threat that, in reality, had long since passed its peak.
I was amused to read in David Ignatius’s Washington Post
column this week that Gates “was the brightest Soviet analyst in
the [CIA] shop, so Casey soon appointed him deputy director
overseeing his fellow analysts.” He wasn’t; and Casey had
something other than expertise in mind.
Talk to anyone who was there at the time (except the
sycophants Gates co-opted) and they will explain that Gates’s
meteoric career had mostly to do with his uncanny ability to see
a Russian under every rock turned over by Casey. Those of
Gates’s subordinates willing to see two Russians became branch
chiefs; three won you a division. I exaggerate only a little.
To Casey, the Communists could never change; and Gorbachev
was simply cleverer than his predecessors.
With his earlier training in our Soviet Foreign Policy branch
(and a doctorate in Soviet affairs no less), Gates knew better.
Yet he carried Casey’s water, and stifled all dissent.
One consequence was that the CIA as an institution missed the
implosion of the Soviet Union—no small matter. Another was a
complete loss of confidence in CIA analysis on the part of
then-Secretary of State George Shultz and others who smelled the
cooking. In July 1987 in the wake of the Iran-Contra affair,
Shultz told Congress: “I had come to have grave doubts about the
objectivity and reliability of some of the intelligence I was
And well he might. In the fall of 1985, for example, there
was an abrupt departure from CIA’s analytical line that Iran was
On Nov. 22, 1985 the agency reported that Iranian-sponsored
terrorism had dropped off substantially in 1985, but no evidence
was adduced to support that key judgment. Oddly, a few months
later CIA’s analysis reverted back to the pre-November 1985
line, with no further mention of any drop-off in Iranian support
It could be more than coincidental that the U.S. illegally
shipped Hawk missiles to Iran in late November 1985. When
questions were raised later about this zigzag in intelligence,
Stephen Engelberg of the New York Times quoted senior CIA
official Clair George saying this was “an example of a desperate
attempt to try to sort of prove something was happening to make
the policy [arms to Iran for hostages] look good, and it
Also in 1985 Gates commissioned and warped a National
Intelligence Estimate suggesting that Soviet influence in Iran
could soon grow and pose a danger to U.S. interests. This
provided additional “justification” for the illegal
arms-for-hostages deal with Iran.
More serious still was Gates’ denial of awareness of Oliver
North’s illegal activities in support of the Contra attacks in
Nicaragua, despite the fact that senior CIA officials testified
that they had informed Gates that North had diverted funds from
the Iranian arms sales for the benefit of the Contras.
The independent counsel for the Iran-Contra investigation
(1986-93), Lawrence Walsh, later wrote in frustration that,
despite Gates’s highly touted memory, he “denied recollection of
facts thirty-three times.”
In 1991, when President George H. W. Bush nominated Robert
Gates for the post of Director of Central Intelligence, there
was a virtual insurrection among CIA analysts who had suffered
under his penchant for cooking intelligence.
The stakes for integrity of analysis were so high that many
still employed at the agency summoned the courage to testify
against the nomination. But the fix was in, thanks to then-chair
of the Senate Intelligence Committee, David Boren and his staff
director, George Tenet. The issue was considered so important
and the damaging evidence so abundant, however, that thirty-one
Senators voted against Gates when the committee forwarded his
nomination. Never before or since has a CIA director nominee
received nearly as many nays.
A highly respected former CIA station chief, Tom Polgar,
offered the following at the 1991 Gates nomination hearings:
“His proposed appointment as director also raises moral
issues. What kind of signal does his re-nomination send to the
troops? Live long enough, your sins will be forgotten? Serve
faithfully the boss of the moment, never mind integrity? Feel
free to mislead the Senate—Senators forget easily? Keep your
mouth shut—if the Special Counsel does not get you, promotion
will come your way?”
Gates is the one most responsible for institutionalizing the
politicization of intelligence analysis. He set the example and
promoted malleable managers more interested in career
advancement than the ethos of speaking truth to power.
In 2002, it was those managers who then-CIA Director George
Tenet ordered to prepare what has become known as the “Whore of
Babylon”—the Oct. 1 National Intelligence Misestimate on weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq. He instructed them to adhere to the
guidelines set by Vice President Dick Cheney in his Aug. 26,
2002 preemptive speech and to complete it in three weeks (in
order to force a congressional vote before the mid-term
To their discredit, senior sycophants saluted and produced
the most fraudulent—and consequential—NIE in the history of
Those commenting on the Gates nomination so far seem largely
unaware of this history. The exception is Rep. Rush Holt, D-New
Jersey, who worked in the State Department’s intelligence bureau
and now sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Pointing out
Gates’ reputation for putting pressure on analysts to shape
their conclusions to fit administration policies, Holt called
the nomination “deeply troubling” and stressed that the
confirmation hearings “should be thorough and probing.” Too bad
Holt is not in the Senate.
There are early indications that Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan,
ranking Democrat on the Armed Forces Committee, intends to
acquiesce in the maneuvering of the White House’s cat’s paw
chairman of that committee, Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, to
rush the nomination through the lame-duck Senate before a new
Congress is in place.
At times in the past Levin has shown considerable courage,
but so many years in the minority seem to have dulled his edge,
prompting him to acquiesce in compromises to which he would have
been allergic in the past—the unsavory deal with Sen. Lindsay
Graham, R-South Carolina, on the rights of “detainees,” for
Not to mention Levin’s sudden cave-in, in the aftermath of
9/11, on funding for the National Missile Defense program, which
he earlier recognized as obscenely expensive, of unproven
reliability, and of dubious utility given the changing nature of
the threats to our security.
Whether Levin steps up to the plate on Gates will be an early
indication of whether the election has implanted any spine into
Democrats—whether they still have it in them to act like
Levin has had a running dispute with the Bush administration
regarding what he calls a lack of candor (the correct word is
“lies”) in sworn testimony on Iraq. If he allows the Gates
nomination to sail through without a thorough investigation of
Gates’s record, he will be giving a nihil obstat to the
practice of no-fault dissembling before Congress.
In 1991, Levin joined 30 other Senators in voting against
Gates’ confirmation as CIA director because Gates was a good
deal less than candid about his role in Iran-Contra and
unconvincing in his denials that he had politicized
intelligence. But Levin said this week that he wanted to give
Gates a “fair and fresh look; a lot of time has passed.”
Fair enough. If Levin wants to know what has happened in the
interim, he can start with the fresh, documentary evidence
adduced in award-winning investigative reporter Robert Parry’s
recent article, “The
Secret Worl of Robert Gates.” Parry’s article contains
unique and highly damaging information on Gates’s role in the
original “October Surprise”—the successful Republican effort to
prevent the release of the 52 American hostages imprisoned for
14 months in the US embassy in Tehran until Ronald Reagan had
won the election in 1980—and on Gates’s involvement in the
illegal sale of weapons, including cluster bombs to Iraq in the
Another excellent source of updated information on Gates’
involvement in the secret arming of Saddam Hussein (yes, the
same Saddam) and the Iran-Contra scandal is the transcript of an
interview of Robert Parry and former CIA analyst Mel Goodman on
Gates knew about many of Oliver North’s illegal activities,
but under oath, he just couldn’t remember. And Gates has been
able to escape close scrutiny of his own involvement in
extralegal and illegal activities largely because there are far
too few journalists with the enterprise and courage of Robert
While all the above-mentioned escapades are significantly
damaging, the corruption of intelligence should be placed front
and center, given the huge role this played in 2002 in deceiving
Congress in to voting for an unnecessary war.
Whether or not Levin is fully aware of it, Gates is the
archetypal intelligence fixer, employing all the tricks of that
dishonorable trade—including memory loss, when caught. I find
myself wondering if Levin still has it in him to stand up and
say, “Never Again.” Even before he formally becomes chair of
Armed Services, Levin has the power to require a serious vetting
of Gates’ past behavior and to make “Never Again” stick.
At a hearing on his first (abortive) nomination to be CIA
director in 1987, Gates denied that he had tailored intelligence
to please his superiors, adding, “Sycophants can only rise to a
certain level.” Whether that was an unintentionally prophetic
observation or not now depends largely on Carl Levin and his
newly empowered, but apparently not yet emboldened, fellow
Full disclosure: I am in Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s debt
for TV notoriety on May 4, when my impromptu questioning of him
elicited denials easily shown to be false. I have known Robert
Gates for 36 years, starting when Gates was a journeyman analyst
in CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy branch which I headed.