Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Menace of Mr. Smooth

Not only was Robert Gates an Eagle Scout in his youth but he grew up to become president of the National Eagle Scout Association. Unlike his grating predecessor as Secretary of Defense, Don Rumsfeld, Gates is soporific and therein may lie his menace to America.

Today on Meet the Press, Gates lulled us with his uninflected claim of “positive things happening at the local level” in Iraq, “confidence in the evaluation that Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus are going to make in early September” and a reminder he had told the Iraqi parliament that “every day that we buy you, we’re buying it with American blood, and the idea of you going on vacation is unacceptable.”

All this sounds sane and plausible, but American blood keeps flowing and Gates, by not being cocky and condescending like Rumsfeld, is enabling it. His intelligence and rationality may doing more damage.

In the subtitle of his memoirs was the phrase “the ultimate insider,” and Gates has certainly been that for almost four decades, most of it with the C.I.A., loyal to the point of almost being prosecuted for his part in the Iran-Contra scandal.

After leaving government to become a college president, Gates in 2005 declined the newly created position of uber-Director of National Intelligence saying he "had nothing to look forward to in D.C.” But he couldn’t refuse the offer to succeed Rumsfeld.

From his demeanor and statements, and as a former member of the Iraq Study Group, Robert Gates clearly understands the futility of the enterprise there. But he has spent his life being a good and loyal servant of those in power, Reagan and both Bushes.

It’s unlikely that he wakes in the middle of the night with pangs over what he is buying with American blood, but it would be comforting to believe he is capable of that.

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