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Swinging (at) Gates

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Robert Gates, the Texas A&M president and nominee for Secretary of Defense, continues to be dogged by critics who accuse him of politicizing intelligence when he was deputy director of the CIA under William Casey in the eighties. The latest to weigh in is a former Soviet analyst Jennifer Glaudemans in an op-ed piece for the LA Times.

This is the key passage from Glaudemans’ article:

“During those years, the government was clearly dominated by people who had a strong ideological view of the Soviet Union. But their conflict was not with people who were “soft” on communism, it was with people who looked at all the available evidence, without much bias one way or another, and who had been to the USSR and witnessed its hollow political and social structure, seeing not an omnipotent superpower but a clumsy, oafish regime often stumbling over its own feet. The real untold story is just how wrong the American hard-liners, such as Gates, got the Soviet Union. Although they were the last to recognize that Mikhail S. Gorbachev was indeed reforming the USSR, they were the first to state that Gorbachev would be ousted and replaced by neo-Stalinists, as had been done to Nikita Khrushchev.”

I posted a similar article in “Gates Reconsidered” on November 15. While I intend to keep readers abreast of the criticism of Gates, I believe that he is the right choice for Secretary of Defense and will be quickly confirmed, if for no other reason than Donald Rumsfeld remains in power at the Pentagon until a successor is confirmed, and nobody wants that except Rummy pal Dick Cheney. Glaudemans’ article lays bare a deep division within the CIA over the seriousness of the threat posed by the Soviet Union in the mid- to late-1980s. Gates states his views in his memoir, From the Shadows, published in 1996–although any memoir must be read with Churchill’s comment in mind: (paraphrasing) “I am confident that history will judge us well because I intend to write it.” Gates always believed that the inefficient Soviet economy could not sustain both a massive military buildup and an adventuring foreign policy, but he also doubted that the economy could be undermined from the outside. As Glaudemans suggests, Gates saw Gorbachev not as a true reformer who intended to change the Soviet system but rather as a dedicated communist who only sought to tweak it. In this, he writes, he was proven correct.

This looks to me like an intramural fight in which the losers are claiming that the winners politicized intelligence. Whatever Gates did in those years, I don’t believe that he took the job of Secretary of Defense so that he could tell the president what the president wants to hear. It’s more likely, as some have suggested, that he took the job to tell the president what the elder George Bush (and Baker, and Scowcroft) wants to hear.

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