The policy change has begun: from reckless imperialism to prudent imperialism. The signal: the nomination of the malleable establishment fixer Robert Gates to replace as Defense Secretary the intractable neo con Donald Rumsfeld, who announced his resignation after the election results came in.
Establishment heavies had ganged up on W. In October, James Baker, Daddy’s top consiglieri, set the stage by publicly chastising Baby Bush for his carelessness in Iraq and the Middle East. Co Chair of the bi partisan Iraq Study Group, Baker’s piercing presence on the policy scene signified that Mommy and Daddy Bush had dispatched their top servant to rein in their terminally immature son.
Baker reprimanded Baby for not talking to enemies like Syria and Iran and demanded the White House revise Iraq strategy. Translated, this means W must abandon neo con fantasies of Washington as Rome and adopt instead traditional bi-partisan policies: prudent imperialism. Instead of sending invading armies into the Middle East against the advice of Allies and Establishment figures, use the CIA, occasional bombing if necessary and always use overwhelming military force – under the banner of the UN, NATO or a coalition of the truly willing imperial cohorts.
Faced with disaster at the polls and horrors in Iraq, Bush obeyed. Indeed, as Baker spoke, the prestigious media had already pronounced that Bush’s “stay the course” mantra had changed into a flexible pragmatic discourse. White House flak Tony Snow assured even media slugs that Bush would no longer use “stay the course” rhetoric. The Times interpreted this as “a new effort to emphasize flexibility in the face of some of the bloodiest violence there since the 2003 invasion.” (Oct. 23)
The once triumphant neo cons denounced Bush for mismanaging their plan to conquer the world – as if anyone could have managed such bellicose whimsy.
Richard Perle, Reagan’s former assistant secretary of defense, called Bush’s in-crowd “deadly” and “dysfunctional” and accused them of being “among the most incompetent teams of the post-war era.”
Kenneth Adelman – Iraq would be a “cakewalk” – resigned last year from his post on the Defense Policy Board. He now claims Bush “squandered America’s chance to intervene abroad in good causes for at least a generation.” Former Bush speechwriter, David “axis of evil” Frum, said the war policy has “failed.”
The neo cons still cling to their faith that U.S. shopping and military culture, unbridled capitalism and love of elections — with appropriate outcomes only of course — would prevail everywhere. If only Bush had managed the Iraq war, the Israelis, neo con idols, would have truly become secure. Well, neo con influence has evaporated – for the time being.
Those ungrateful Iraqis, after all, resisted. The U.S. occupiers did not provide them with running water or electric lights; nor did light appear at the end of the Iraq tunnel except that of an oncoming train. After $1 trillion dollars spent and hundreds of thousands dead and wounded, Bush retreated. Instead of taunting — “bring ’em on” — he defines “stay the course” as “keep doing what you’re doing.” In case that didn’t clarify, he added: “My attitude is, don’t do what you’re doing if it’s not working — change. Stay the course also means, don’t leave before the job is done. We’re going to get the job done in Iraq.” NY Times’ analysts agreed this showed W’s “flexibility.” (Oct 12, 2006)
In other words, Bush must cut and run while denying he is cutting and running. Who better than Robert Gates to lead the chorus in this slimy refrain?
Unlike the 1980s and 90s, when the Bushes did not face an irritated public, Baby confronts a populace that has just voted a resounding basta to his celebratory rhetoric. Gates, an Iraq Study Group member, will not posture as confident and commandeering as did Bush and Rumsfeld while Iraq burns.
Daddy and Mommy must have read Baby’s less than 40% approval rating as a wake-up call for change of policy and image. Some Americans still recalled how he continued reading “My Pet Goat” for seven minutes after he learned that a jet hit the World Trade Center; others remember the coward who could not face Cindy Sheehan. After losing a son in his war, she camped near his Crawford, Texas, vacation home to confront him. Many millions still seethe over the fact that he apparently lacked the compassion to interrupt his holiday and deal with the Hurricane Katrina victims.
The nomination of Gates would send a signal that Baby was overcoming his infantile tendencies. The Bushes somehow expect the older Americans to forget Gates’ less than courageous past. For example, when William Casey began his tenure in 1981 as CIA director, Gates, then Deputy Director, showed his pusillanimous character.
Instead of presenting his boss with the solid evidence the Agency had amassed about Soviet decline, which was obvious to a casual tourist, Gates backed Casey’s ideologically driven and fact-free policy that the USSR was stronger than ever. By 1981, any visitor could have told the President that the Soviets were in deep decline. But such evidence would have contradicted the Reagan-Casey myth that the Soviets had “out-nuclear missiled” the United States and therefore posed an immediate threat to western security. It would have made it difficult to raise the Defense Budget to build more nuclear weapons.
In the late 1980s, Gates continued his dissembling before Congress about the facts in the Iran-Contra shenanigans, not remembering how the Agency helped send illegal missiles to Iran so that Reagan’s unofficial gang, led by Lt. Col Oliver North, would have money to fund the illegal Contras. How ironic that the establishment Bushes should choose such a sleaze as Gates to represent the sensible imperialists! By not finding a clean figure, Daddy and Baker actually underlined their own moral weakness and again ascertained that Baby’s Administration will go down as the worst in U.S. history.
Just days after his nomination, prestigious voices began to sing the chorus of facts about Gates. In 1987 Gates, up for head of the CIA, denied he had “tailored intelligence to please his superiors.” But he had, said former CIA analyst Ray McGovern. “Sycophants can only rise to a certain level,” McGovern quoted Gates, showing how this ass kisser posing as intelligence officer could project his unseemly behavior. (McGovern heads the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Truthout Nov 11)
In 1991, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) opposing Gates’ nomination for CIA chief, asked why Deputy Director Gates was “able to tell Presidents everything about the Soviet Union except the fact that it was falling apart?” (Nov 7, 1991, Senate Floor debate) Gates had no answer.
He should have said he was simply playing Casey’s lying game. Those who govern the empire – prudently or recklessly — cannot afford honesty. Gates has hada long association with the Bush clan and they know him as obedient – just as they knew Colin Powell. The servants of power, the chief butlers of the establishment, have not changed their rationale for lying.
Robert McNamara, Chief Butler and Defense Secretary under Johnson, confessed some of his sins in “The Fog of War” documentary. He knew the Vietnam War was not “winnable,” but still offered the public his “light at the end of the tunnel” metaphors.
A truly dense President has repeated Johnson’s mistake. His cabinet servants also echo whatever nonsense comes from the White House, no matter the amount of death and destruction that result. Only after Secretary of State Powell resigned in 2005, did he admit he had made serious mistakes.
So, perhaps the newly arrived Democratic majority will send Gates packing and force Bush to name a real public servant, one who understands the difference between saying “yes sir” to a character-flawed lame duck President and the interests of this nation’s people: quickly and safely removing U.S. troops from combat and making moves to repair the wounds inflicted on Iraq – and the United States.
Senator Harkin’s 1991 words on Gates should echo loudly: “The U.S. Congress and the American people depend on accurate and reliable intelligence information. Our expenditures on defense and other areas are often decided on the basis of that information. We cannot afford to waste billion of dollars in the future. After reviewing the record, I do not believe that the Central Intelligence Agency under the directorship of Robert Gates will provide the clear intelligence assessments necessary for Congress to make decisions to deal with the future threats confronting our nation.”
Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. His new book, A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD, will be published by Counterpunch Press.