Wednesday, May 9, 2007



Joan Hoff is author of Faustian Foreign Policy from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush (forthcoming, 2007, Cambridge University Press)

There comes a time, especially during foreign policy crises, when "retreads" are not what is needed if a president wants a "new way forward." A New World Order for the twenty-first century cannot be created by elderly Cold Warriors whose minds contain more Cold War baggage than fresh ideas, whether they consider themselves neo-cons or neo-liberals idealists or realists. Younger diplomatic specialists exist whose careers and intellect have not been tainted by the questionable methods often used by the United States to win the Cold War.

Yet the prevalence of this "retread" phenomenon could clearly be seen in the membership of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and the unseemly swift Senate approval of Robert Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. Not only was the average age of the commission 67, but also fewer than half of its 10 members had been (or were) foreign policy, let alone Middle Eastern, experts and all were Cold Warrior "retreads."

The ISG report seemed designed to rescue Bush, courtesy of his father's "realist" friends and advisers, from the idealist views of the president neo-con advisers with suggestions for a moderate "change of course." It also aimed taking the president's failed Iraqi policy off the political agenda in time for the 2008 election. This is exactly what Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird recommended to President Richard Nixon in March 1969. In essence, the ISG report basically called for the "Iraqization" or "Iraqafication" of the war similar to the "Vietnamization" of that war.

In both cases the object was (is) to co-opt domestic dissatisfaction with the conduct of war by reducing American casualties and turning more of the fighting over to American-trained native soldiers. Nixon initiated this policy in 1969 but the war continued for another three years with the loss of more than 20,000 U.S. military personnel. At the time antiwar groups correctly predicted that "Vietnamization" would prolong rather than end the war. The same will likely prove true of "Iraqization."

Gates, a career intelligence officer and "retread" par excellence, has served every president since Richard Nixon and was a member of the Baker-Hamilton Commission. His most well-known and controversial service occurred when he was deputy director of the CIA under Bill Casey. In that capacity he recommended air strikes against Nicaragua then led by Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and was later implicated in the Iran-Contra affair. Among other things, he wrote most of Casey's testimony misleading testimony to Congress about these illegal arms sales to Iran via Israel with the profits going to the Contras. Later, Iran-Contra Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh did not indict Gates, but concluded that his statements about his involvement in the affair "often seemed scripted and less than candid."

After Gates became acting director of the CIA when Bill Casey became ill in December 1986, Reagan nominated him to head the agency, but concerns by Senators prompted Reagan to withdraw his nomination. In 1991 President George H. W. Bush nominated him again and, although thirty-one Democrats voted against him, Gates used his friendship with David Boren, the Democratic chair of Senate Intelligence Committee, to become CIA director until Bill Clinton came to office. In less than a full day of hearings the Senate approved Gates to replace Rumsfeld in December 2006.

What had happened to the doubts about his ethics and the spinning of intelligence in the 1980s? Have the 12 of the Democratic Senators who are still in Congress of the thirty-one who voted against Gates in 1991 forgotten Senator Sam Daschle's (D-SD) words back then: "We can't afford to take the chance that a fellow who has deliberately trimmed intelligence and taken liberties with the truth will reform."

There is no evidence that Gates has ever stood up to his superiors or fostered innovative ideas in his previous positions. His role most likely will be to mollify complaints within the Pentagon and calm criticism from retired military officers. Additionally, he faces Cheney's power as proxy president. In that "retread" battle, odds are good that the vice president will prevail. Not surprisingly, Gates has endorsed the military surge to secure Baghdad as a "new way forward."

Then consider John D. Negroponte who was accused charged with human rights violations as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras for running political cover for CIA-sponsored Honduran death squads fighting with the Nicaraguan Contras against the Sandinistas during and after Iran-Contra affair. In Bush's second term Negroponte became the first Director of National Intelligence (DNI) charged with coordinating the fight against terrorism and now has become the number two man at the State Department. Like Gates, Negroponte has no reputation for challenging the failed, unethical, or unconstitutional policies of his bosses. And both gave misleading testimony to Congress during the height of the Cold War.

Negroponte's replacement, retired Vice Admiral John McConnell, former director of the National Security Agency, went on to direct defense programs at one of the nation's biggest private and intelligence defense contractors, Booz Allen, responsible for coming up with the infamous Total Information Awareness data-mining scheme. McConnell is considered a good, low profile technocrat, but not an independent or creative thinker - let alone someone with the management skills needed to make the intelligence community work because he believes in outsourcing U.S. intelligence operations to private contractors.

Another "retread" with a less than savory reputation is Elliot Abrams. Convicted for giving false testimony and illicit fund raising activity connected to Iran-Contra activity but pardoned by George H. W. Bush, Abrams went from Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the NSC for Near East and North African Affairs to Deputy National Security Adviser for Global Democracy Strategy.

Finally, consider the appointments of Fred Fielding, who served under Nixon and Reagan, as White House counsel primarily to ward off investigations - a role he is duplicating in opposing charges against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Then Zalmay Khalilzad, a neo-conservative protege of Cheney and member of Project for a New American Century who served under both Reagan and Bush Sr. despite (or because of his) Unocal oil and Taliban connections in Afghanistan, first became ambassador to the new Afghan regime under Hamid Karzai, then ambassador to Iraq after the U.S. invasion and, in 2007, ambassador to the UN. These personnel changes simply surround Bush with more "retreads" whose Cold War track records are suspect and who are not known for being innovative thinkers except when they are misleading Congress.

These "retreads" and others who surround Bush will not come up with new ideas, just new ways to mislead Congress and the American people about a failed policy in Iraq that may destabilize the entire Middle East.


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