Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is perpetually walking a tightrope. He is, after all, a member of the president’s cabinet, and if he wants to remain so, he must display loyalty and hew to administration policy. But he indisputably has little patience for the notion that we can endear ourselves to Islamic fascists or Iranian despots. His department is, unlike the rest of the federal government, on a strict budget, so he must make the most of what limited funds he has. And in all this, he is incapable of lying. So we have a series of pained but telling comments from him.
After the announced decision to deploy 30,000-plus troops to Afghanistan (a position he favored), it was up to Gates (along with Hillary Clinton) to soft-pedal the 18-month deadline. He took to the talk shows and Congressional hearings to assure everyone that Obama didn’t really mean a fixed deadline and that we’d of course stick it out to achieve our aims, relying on conditions on the ground.
On the Mirandizing of the Christmas Day bomber, he would only say this was Eric Holder’s call. And while he was careful not to slam his cabinet colleague, in an exchange with Sen. John McCain, he left little doubt about what he thought of the decision:
Gates said “I think we did not have the high-level interrogators there that we now have protocols in place” to assure their presence. But he added: “I believe that a team of highly experienced FBI and other interrogators could be as effective in interrogating the prisoner as anyone operating under the (Army) field manual.”
McCain asked Gates if he agreed with an assertion by Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, that better, more complete or more useful information might have been gleaned from the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, if he had been subjected to a more intense style of interrogation.
“I’m just not in a position to know the answer to that, senator,” Gates replied. But he did reply, “Yes,” when asked if he thought a special group of more qualified interrogators, members of the High Value Interrogation Group, should have been present.
Nor does Gates want to suggest that there is any hope that we can talk the mullahs out of their nukes. On Iran:
Speaking to reporters in Ankara after meeting with Turkish leaders, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he does not believe that Iran and the West are close to a nuclear deal. “I don’t have the sense that we’re close to an agreement,” Gates told reporters, according to Reuters. “If they are prepared to take up the original proposal of the P-5 plus one of delivering 1,200 kilograms of their low enriched uranium, all at once to an agreed party, I think there would be a response to that,” he added. He described Iran’s response to Obama’s diplomatic outreach as “disappointing.”
But alas, he is part of the administration and voiced the Obama line that the purpose of sanctions would be to get the mullahs back to the table, not to affect regime change.
Gates is unlikely to please either the Left or the Right. The Left would rather that Joe Biden run national-security policy and that the Gates position on Afghanistan had been rejected. They smarted as he fuzzed up the 18-month deadline that Obama had thrown to the Left as a consolation prize. Conservatives would certainly prefer he not make excuses for cuts in missile defense and be more critical of Holder’s serial follies. But those conservatives who expect more of Gates should ask themselves: would the administration’s national-security policy be worse without him? The answer, I would suggest, is almost certainly yes. So the Gates minuet continues.