Gates Reconsidered
Thu November 16, 2006 12:22 am

Several days ago, I wrote a piece headlined "Bob Gates is the Right Choice" [to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense]. Joey Kolker, a student of mine, came across the following article from the Baltimore Sun that takes a different view and fowarded it to me. The author, Melvin Goodman, is a formidable adversary, a professor of international studies at the National War College and a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. I am going to post the article here, because I think it is important that the other side be represented in the debate. A lot of this is going to be heavy going for the reader, but if you are really interested in the most fundamental issues of what the CIA ought to be doing, and whether Bob Gates deserves Melvin Goodman's criticism, give it a try.

Wrong Man to Replace Rumsfeld
By Melvin A. Goodman
Originally published November 10, 2006

"Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation has unloaded a great deal of unwelcome baggage for the Bush administration, but the nomination of Robert M. Gates is unlikely to help resolve the disastrous war in Iraq or the uniformed military's opposition to the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. Unlike successful secretaries of defense in the recent past, Mr. Gates lacks essential experience in military and industrial affairs and has had serious problems with the congressional confirmation process.

"Two previous presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, nominated Mr. Gates for the position of director of central intelligence. In 1987, Mr. Gates had to withdraw his name because a majority of Senate Intelligence Committee members did not believe his denials regarding prior knowledge of the Iran-contra scandal. The independent counsel in the Iran-contra investigation, Lawrence E. Walsh, shared their disbelief.

"In 1991, Mr. Gates was confirmed after receiving more than 30 negative votes, far more than any other nominee to the position of CIA director had garnered over nearly six decades. Key senators were convinced in 1991 that Mr. Gates had a major role in the politicization of intelligence on the Soviet Union, Central America and Southwest Asia. During his testimony, Mr. Gates, known for his outstanding memory, testified 33 times that he did not have any recollection of the facts of Iran-contra.

"Mr. Gates became the first career CIA analyst to take over the reins of the agency, ultimately doing more harm to the mission and mandate of the CIA's intelligence directorate than any previous director - even his mentor, William J. Casey. His strong ideological agenda in support of the White House often led him down the wrong analytical road, causing him to be wrong about the central issues of the day involving the decline and fall of the Soviet Union and the impact of ethnic violence on regional conflicts.

"Some of his statements led to strong and unprecedented reprimands from Secretaries of State George P. Shultz and James A. Baker III. In 1987, Mr. Shultz confronted Mr. Gates and told him, "You have a big, powerful machine not under good control. I distrust what comes out of it." In 1989, Mr. Baker had to stop a speech against Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev that Mr. Gates was going to deliver that would have compromised Mr. Baker's diplomatic initiatives.
As deputy to Mr. Casey in the 1980s, he developed a reputation as a political windsock, serving the director's extreme ideological agenda. During his 25 years at the CIA and the National Security Council, Mr. Gates repeatedly failed a critical test - telling truth to power, which is essential to the intelligence and policy communities.

"In his previous positions at the CIA and the NSC, Mr. Gates earned a reputation as a micromanager (a trait he shares with Mr. Rumsfeld), lacking confidence in his subordinates and immersing himself in the minutiae of decision-making. This will not work in the Pentagon, the most powerful and difficult department in Washington's vast national security empire. He presumably would want to replace the senior civilian leadership that has earned the scorn of the uniformed military, and he will need a great deal of time to get up to speed on such difficult issues as Iran, North Korea and weapons procurement - let alone the challenges of the Iraq war.
"Nearly two years ago, Mr. Gates turned down the position of director of national intelligence because of the endemic problems of the intelligence community. Now he would confront the even more serious problem of managing a $450 billion defense budget and the service rivalries in the Pentagon.

"Finally, it is particularly troubling that President Bush, who marched this country into an unnecessary and costly war on the basis of specious and even fabricated intelligence, is turning to Mr. Gates, who has a reputation for politicizing intelligence. This suggests that the president is not open to real change with respect to Iraq; instead, he is circling the wagons with another loyal and obedient subordinate who will not question the wisdom of the pre-emptive use of military force in Iraq or the wisdom of pursuing "victory" in Iraq."

In appointing Mr. Gates to head the Pentagon, Mr. Bush is running the risk of further poisoning the tense atmosphere at the Department of Defense. It is up to the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to look past Mr. Gates' glittery resume and to assess whether he has acquired the maturity and integrity to manage the huge military bureaucracy.

Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, was an analyst at the CIA from 1966 to 1990. His e-mail is

It may help to know Mr. Goodman's world view. This excerpt comes from an interview with Mr. Goodman that I found on the CNN Web site:

"Probably the greatest failure in the history of the CIA is the error with regard to exaggerating the size and the strength and the capabilities and the intentions of the Soviet Union. And I think this failure was a direct result of the greatest cultural change in the history of the CIA, which took place in 1981, when finally you got a very ideological individual, [William Casey], running the CIA, with a strong ideological and policy agenda with regard to the CIA, who introduced the notion that we are not going to say or introduce any intelligence to the policy process that talks about Soviet weakness or Soviet conciliation or Soviet interest in negotiation. So from 1981 on, and certainly throughout most of the two Reagan terms, you only got intelligence out of the CIA that talked about the strength of the Soviet Union, the perfidy of the Soviet Union, the threatening nature of the Soviet Union. And all of the intelligence that supported the notion that the Soviets were weak and that the economy was in trouble, and that military procurement was coming down and that the interest in arms control was great, and that the signals for a [Soviet] strategic retreat were in place -- this kind of intelligence could not get outside of the building to go to the White House. ..."

"When Gorbachev came into power in 1985, he made it very clear that this was a very different Soviet political animal, that he had very different policy ideas from all of his predecessors, and that he wanted to create an entirely new strategic environment for the Soviet Union and an entirely new Soviet-American strategic architecture. The CIA was wrong about this man, about his intentions, and about all of his policies -- so when you examine the period from 1985 to 1990 and you look at one bold initiative after another with regard to arms control, on-site inspection, the withdrawal of Soviet force, the withdrawal of the Soviet navy from the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, the cutbacks in defense spending -- in all of these areas the CIA was behind the curve in anticipating these policies. ..."

My knowledge of Mr. Gates' career came from reading his book, From the Shadows, which is a history of the Cold War from the perspective of the CIA. This gave Gates the opportunity to write history as he wanted it to be read. Still, the book does not have a self-serving tone. Particularly in his treatment of the Iran-Contra controversy, Gates does considerable soul searching about his role. It is not my intention to engage in a debate with Mr. Goodman, but I do want to make a few comments based upon Mr. Gates's book.

1. That Gates was Casey's deputy does not mean that he knew everything Casey was doing. Casey did not go to the CIA to become a manager. As Gates wrote, Casey took the job to make war on the Soviet Union. It seems plausible to me that Gates did not know all that Casey was doing.

2. Casey was certainly an ideologue, who, like many of the Reaganites, believed that the CIA had consistently underestimated the Soviet Union's military assets and overestimated its economic vitality. But some of Gates harshest words in the book are directed at the Reagan ideologues who from the beginning had their minds made up that the CIA was deliberately manipulating intelligence. Indeed, Gates says that one of the principal reasons he wrote the book was to let Americans know that the CIA had done a good job of gathering intelligence during the Cold War. I find it hard to square Goodman's charge that Gates politicized intelligence with Gates's antipathy to the ideological Reaganites.

3. Gates admits in the book that he did not believe that the Soviet economy was vulnerable to outside pressure, and in that in this he was wrong.

4. It is true that Gates clashed with Schulz. But, as Gates tells it, so did virtually everybody else in the intelligence business. He describes Schulz as standing alone and yet having the intelligence and the skill to get his way.

5. Gates did not believe that Gorbachev was "a very different Soviet political animal" (although former President Bush, whom I interviewed for my article on Gates, told me, "He recognized we were dealing with a different breed of cat in that guy Gorby). Gates emphatically believed that Gorbachev was not a genuine reformer but a dedicated communist who thought he could preserve the Soviet system by making gradual improvements. Gates did not think Gorbachev could change the system before there was a meltdown, and in this he was proven right.

If I may be allowed to offer an interpretation of this debate between two individual whose knowledge dwarfs my own, one can see two very smart individuals clashing here, with Goodman believing that the Soviet economy was so weak that the collapse was inevitable, even imminent, while Gates saw it as doomed by fatal flaws but not necessarily in the short run. Goodman turned out to be more right on this point, but it is hardly an issue over which Gates' confirmation should rise or fall.

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