Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gates in for Rumsfeld

What’s more than a wave but less than a tsunami?

Either a flood or the results of the 2006 congressional elections.

If you are the president, however, it might be the announcement that you have accepted the resignation of your Secretary of Defense and the name of his successor – on the day after your party lost control of the Congress.

Robert Gates, President Bush’s choice to replace Donald Rumsfeld, is no stranger to Washington. After two years in the air force, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1966, rising through the ranks to become Executive Staff Director in 1981 and then Deputy Director for Intelligence in 1982. In 1986, President Reagan appointed him Deputy Director of the CIA, where he remained until 1989. He had been nominated in 1987 to be the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and CIA head, but withdrew from consideration when it became clear the Senate would not confirm him because of his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair and in providing weapons to Saddam Hussein during the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War. After leaving the CIA in 1989, Gates served in the White House and the National Security Council through the 1991 war that ousted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. President George H.W. Bush nominated Gates for a second time to be DCI and CIA chief in March 1991 and he was confirmed in November 1991, serving until 1993.

Gates will see some familiar faces when he goes before Congress, for some of those who were present in the Senate in 1991 are still there and still may harbor questions about Gates’ role in the Iran-Contra affair. At the time of Gates’ first nomination to be DCI, the Special Prosecutor did not find sufficient evidence to warrant indicting Gates for either concealing information about the sale of weapons and spare parts to Iran or the funneling of money to the Contras in Nicaragua who were being helped by the CIA in trying to overthrow the Sandinistas.

(It is also ironic that this President Bush announced his choice of Gates to be the next Secretary of Defense on the day after Daniel Ortega, who was president of Nicaragua in the 1980s, won election as Nicaragua’s next president.)

The only question that seems open is whether the current U.S. Senate controlled by the Republicans will try to push through abbreviated hearings and confirm Gates as soon as possible or leave that task for the new Senate. Either way, Gates will undoubtedly be confirmed, as even the Democrats seem eager to have anyone as Secretary of Defense who is not Donald Rumsfeld.

The real test in all this will be whether the change in Defense and the change in Congress will produce any significant change in U.S. strategy in Iraq and in Afghanistan. At the very least, the U.S. public has expressed its dissatisfaction with the administration’s and the Congress’ war choices. What is needed now is planning for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and the assumption by the Iraqis of the burden for devising a political solution that will be fair and workable for all Iraqis.

Mr. Gates has his work cut out for him – as does the new Congress.

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