The removal of Rumsfeld signals that Bush is listening to the voters
and elected officials. However, the nomination of Robert Gates—a Bush
family crony and former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) under his
father’s administration—to replace Rumsfeld will only create new
problems for the President.
President Ronald Reagan had to withdraw Gates’ nomination for DCI in
1987 because of Gates’s involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal. By 1991,
after the heat had died down on the whole affair, President George H.W.
Bush re-nominated Gates for the post, and he was confirmed.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the Iran-Contra affair was worse
for the Republic than the Watergate scandal. The Nixon administration’s
illegal spying and dirty tricks on political opponents and misuse of law
enforcement and intelligence agencies were bad. But the Reagan
administration’s evasion of a congressional ban on assisting the
Nicaraguan Contras (the Boland Amendment) was a knife in the heart of
the greatest power the Congress has under the checks and balances of the
Constitution—the power of the purse.
Illegal activities get more media and law enforcement attention than
unconstitutional actions, but the unconstitutional ones are, by far, the
most harmful to the country.
Although Gates was never indicted for the Iran-Contra affair, he was
severely criticized for his actions by Judge Lawrence E. Walsh, the
Republican Independent Counsel who investigated the Iran-Contra affair.
In his report on the scandal, Walsh said that contrary to Gates’ sworn
testimony before a grand jury and at a confirmation hearing, “evidence
proves” that then-Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Gates knew
about the unconstitutional diversion of profits from Iran-bound arms
sales to the Contras sooner than he let on.
Lying to a grand jury and Congress is illegal. Furthermore, it is
difficult to believe that the number two man at the CIA didn’t know all
along about CIA’s efforts to support the Contras and malfeasance by
government officials in a high-priority covert operation.
Walsh also concluded that the CIA continued to support Oliver North’s
diversion of funds to the Contras without investigating or telling his
bosses at the National Security Council. Finally, Walsh concluded that
Gates participated in two briefings of congressional investigators which
helped lull them into falsely believing the CIA was not involved in
facilitating private flights to resupply the Contras.
Gates’ role in ignoring Congress’s specific ban on assisting the
Contras—one of the most dangerous threats to constitutional government
in American history—should not be dismissed as merely “old news.”
Apparently, the media and the Democrats are so relieved about getting
rid of Rumsfeld that they appear to be doing just that.
In a Nov. 9, 2006 article, the Washington Post touted Gates’
extensive government experience, brilliance, bipartisanship, and
pragmatic, consensus-building management style, but included only one
sentence in Gates’ biography about his role in the Iran-Contra affair.
The newspaper also cites praise for Gates from retired Sen. Sam Nunn,
the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, whose
questions led to the withdrawal of the first Gates CIA nomination in
1987. The Post quoted Nunn as complimenting Gates’ “ability to work
closely with Congress on a bipartisan basis,” and noted that he “has a
well-deserved reputation on both sides of the aisle for competency and
Integrity in the nation’s capital apparently includes looking the
other way when unconstitutional acts are being committed—even when those
actions threaten the balance of power between government branches and
the decentralized system of governance which makes America unique.
Unfortunately, memories are short in Washington, and most
transgressions, no matter how bad, fade over time and eventually are
forgiven. Even outsiders such as the BBC have already reported that
Gates “is widely respected among both Democrats and Republicans in the
Congress, and his appointment is expected to be swiftly ratified by the
As Congress passes into Democrat hands, it should make a renewed
commitment to honesty and integrity in government, and reassert its
power against an excessively dominant executive branch. The Senate
should reject the Gates nomination.
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace &
Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.