Loose Canons

Gatesgate and Other SGO

To think January is not even half over.

By 1.13.14

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In Nixonian terms, Robert Gates’s memoir Duty would already be labeled “Gatesgate” if the revelations in it were half as good as the reports of them are. Add to that the dissolution of Iraq, Ed Gillespie’s imminent Senate candidacy and a tinge of GW Bridge envy and you have a lot of SGO for a month that’s only half-over.

(For those just joining us, “SGO” is the comprehensively useful acronym invented by my friend and former SEAL Al Clark. It means “s*** goin’ on” which is as good a shorthand for politics as anyone can devise.)

The Economist seems to have captured the moment in its editorial cartoon this week. In the foreground, de facto Secretary of State Dennis Rodman is handing a “Happy Birthday” balloon to Kim Jong-un. In the background stands Barack Obama asking angrily how he can respond to amateurs messing around in foreign affairs. Next to him stands Bob Gates, saying “You could write a book.”

We need to be a bit cautious about Gates’s book before reading it and being able to judge its importance. (The book isn’t being released until tomorrow, so I haven’t read it yet.) But a few initial comments are appropriate because so many quotes have been published.

The most significant revelation I’ve seen is Gates’s statement about a 2011 meeting with Obama and Gen. Petraeus, then overall commander in Afghanistan. Gates writes, “As I sat there I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.

That is a condemnation of Obama you’ll not hear from anyone else who has served in his administration. It says, in plain terms, that the lives of American soldiers sacrificed in Afghanistan since Obama was inaugurated were wasted — intentionally — by a president who sent them to die for no reason other than it was politically inconvenient for him to pull them out sooner.

But this raises a very serious question about Bob Gates. He was recruited for the defense secretary job by George Bush, whom he served without doing anything significant. Based on that record, Gates became the only holdover from the Bush cabinet to serve Obama. When Obama was campaigning, Gates had more than enough opportunity to observe him and come to his own conclusions about what Obama would do, Joe Biden’s qualifications to be veep (Gates now writes that Biden was wrong on about every foreign policy issue for forty years, a fact which I wrote about during the 2008 campaign), and Congress’s most obvious failures.

All of these facts apparently escaped Gates during the campaign and through what had to be several long sessions with Obama & Co. before Obama re-nominated him for the SECDEF job. Gates’s book reportedly says that these facts — and a lot more — were all surprises to him after he began serving Obama. How can that be? How could he be unaware that Obama’s entire campaign was a condemnation of everything that Bush did between 2001 and 2009?

Gates is not dumb. He could not have been so thoroughly duped. So we are left with his malleability. Gates has served so many presidents (8?) that he has to have the character of a political chameleon, changing his colors to suit whatever background the serving president paints.

Remember, for example, his main innovation as Secretary of Defense. Gates oversaw the first round of defense budgeting in which Obama changed the rules. Gates was the one to support the amount of cuts to be made and to then craft the budget to justify the cuts. Thereby, Obama imposed $400 billion in defense cuts over ten years before sequestration imposed an additional $600 billion of cuts over the same period.

Gates is the Queen of Hearts of defense: verdict first (the cuts) and trial (the justification) after.

Another of Gates’s accomplishments is now playing out in Iraq. Gates writes that he wanted to leave Iraq so stable that our withdrawal wouldn’t be labeled a strategic defeat and that “I believe my minimalist goals were achieved in Iraq.” That is quite clearly belied by the resurgence of al Qaeda and the fact that al Qaeda is so strong it has been able to seize two major cities — Fallujah and Ramadi — and throw the Maliki government out. (The Maliki government has since retaken parts of Ramadi, but its hold there is tenuous.)

The situation is so bad there that the Secretary of State (Kerry, not Rodman) has had to affirm that American troops won’t be sent back in to Iraq. That hasn’t stopped some of the neocons from declaring — as one did in the Washington Post yesterday — that American airpower should be re-employed in Iraq to bolster Maliki.

 That column, of course, also presumed we can pressure Maliki to be more moderate. As if we have any influence in Iraq, which we don’t.

The nation-building fallacy has taken two years to fall apart in Iraq. It is not salvageable and — as I have written since before the Iraq invasion in 2003 — should never have been tried. It will fall apart even more quickly in Afghanistan when we leave there. Let us at least have the courage to not feign surprise when it does.

We also can’t feign surprise when soon-to-be Virginia candidate for the U.S. Senate Ed Gillespie’s background catches up to him

Gillespie is reportedly going to declare his candidacy this week. Gillespie’s Republican Establishment credentials are impeccable. Former White House counsel for George Bush, former RNC chairman, a close associate of anti-conservative Karl Rove and his “American Crossroads” PAC, he seems to be the perfect choice of the Acela Corridor crowd. As the New York Times put it, Gillespie is the chance for mainstream Virginia Republicans to “retake control from the Tea Party.” Gillespie has been a strong supporter of “comprehensive immigration reform,” as you would expect from a former Bush confidante. None of this is going to sit well with Virginia conservatives.

All of this adds up to another win for the Dems in November. If the Republicans choose Gillespie as their nominee to oppose Mark Warner, the only way for him to win would be to label Warner as the “51st vote for Obamacare,” and even then it’ll be an uphill struggle to push a very heavy boulder — Bush Republicanism — over the top.

And it’s not just Gillespie who is trying to outdo Sisyphus. Corpus Christie has a lead on Gillespie, at least on the ramp to the George Washington Bridge.

Corpus’s 107-minute performance in his press conference to deny any fault seemed to be overdone, but it just can’t compare with the media’s performance on the whole mess. According to a report by my friend Paul Bedard, the media devoted 34 minutes and 24 seconds of broadcast coverage to “Bridgegate” in only 24 hours. That compares nicely — nicely for Obama — to the two minutes and eight seconds devoted to the IRS scandal in the last six months, according to an analysis by the Media Research Center.

It’s not possible to root for Corpus, given his unsavory connections to some radical Islamists. But it is always possible to hold ABC, NBC, and CBS in utter contempt. Compared to what Bob Gates writes about Congress, that almost seems mild.

One prediction is necessary. Corpus will continue to surface and spout, often to the praise of the liberal media, until they find another “moderate” Republican to replace him at the head of the 2016 pack.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.