Robert Gates, the Right Man at a Very Late Time in the Game
Bob Gates has done a great many things right in his brief tenure as Secretary of Defense. Not the least of those services has been to bring a sense of appropriate mission to the Pentagon, where once the Rumsfeld mission seemed in danger of replacing the Department of State.
War, as is correctly said, is failed diplomacy. Or was it ‘diplomacy by other means?’ No matter, the result is mostly the same, except for the profit to the military-industrial chaps, who are mostly living quietly at home, shooting a few quail and musing upon the assured future of their offspring.
(David Ignatius, Washington Post, Aug 7th) Defense Secretary Bob Gates has been talking recently about how to rebuild America's national security architecture so that it fits the 21st century. The next president should think about assigning Gates to fix what he rightly says is broken.
Gates is an anomaly in this lame-duck administration. He is still firing on all cylinders, working to repair the damage done at the Pentagon by his arrogant and aloof predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. Gates has restored accountability in the military services by firing the secretaries of the Army and Air Force when they failed to respond forthrightly to problems. And he has been an early and persuasive internal administration critic of U.S. military action against Iran.
Ignatius is right on. Either cause worthy enough to secure the man an honored place in the history of a dishonorable administration. One would hope that, if the Democrats nail down the next presidency, the thrown-out bathwater will not include this particular public servant.
Amazingly for a defense secretary, Gates has been arguing against the "creeping militarization" of foreign policy. In a speech last month, he urged more funding for the State Department and other civilian agencies, saying they have been "chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long." In Washington, that's almost unheard of -- sticking your neck out for the other guy -- and it's one reason Gates' reputation has been steadily rising.
Allowing that Obama (presume, presume) will be the incomer and that he will want his own choice of Defense Secretary, Ignatius makes the intriguing suggestion that Bob Gates would be the perfect man to overhaul the raggedy, shopworn, patched-together national security apparatus.
Why not appoint Gates to head a special commission to revise the basic framework of the National Security Act of 1947? He knows all the pieces of this puzzle -- having run the CIA and worked at the National Security Council earlier in his career. A hypothetical Gates commission would have two basic missions.
Fix the NSC structure so that it is designed to deal with today's "soft power" challenges rather than the old Cold War problems. Specifically, a Gates commission should think about how to focus money and expertise on the nation-building problems that now fall between the cracks of the interagency system.
"Over the long term, we cannot kill or capture our way to victory," Gates warned last month. "What the Pentagon calls 'kinetic' operations should be subordinate to measures to promote participation in government, economic programs to spur development, and efforts to address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies.". . a (new) report notes, there are more people serving in military bands than in the entire State Department. Changing that balance will require a different kind of NSC architecture.
If you weren’t noticing (as I was not noticing) that the State Department has shrunk to the size of a band of trumpet-players rather than orchestrating upon the world stage, it’s time to smell the coffee.
No wonder Condi Rice seems to be ever airborne to ever less purpose. She is doing everything other than piloting the plane. Some wags would follow that by saying that piloting the plane of State is her actual job and they would not be far wrong.
Fix the half-baked reform of the intelligence agencies. The 2004 law that created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was meant to deal with the intelligence failures that led to Sept. 11, but it instead has created more bureaucracy. Gates understands very well what's wrong; he turned down the DNI job because he knew the structure was unwieldy. Gates has cobbled together an interim solution by working with old friends -- DNI Mike McConnell, CIA Director Mike Hayden and Pentagon intelligence chief James Clapper. But the current arrangement is too dependent on personalities. A sign of continuing backroom friction is the rivalry over who will brief the presidential candidates.
The FBI was arguably at its most effective under the iron-fisted and power-mad control of J. Edgar Hoover. A small structure, closely held, with very short reporting structures served Hoover well and the lesson there is not to expand our intelligence gathering community mindlessly, but to find a better man than Hoover.
Currently, in lieu of a ‘better man,’ we have sixteen agencies, 100,000 employees and almost $45 billion annual cost. They stand around, bump into the furniture, point fingers, argue over territory and are unable to get a single agent’s concern up the chain of (?) command in time to stop 9-11 from happening. And that was
back in the ‘good old days’ before Mike Chertoff became unlikely head of an agency devoted to overlaying the standing, bumping, pointing and arguing with wondering, fretting, testifying and looking foolish in case after case.
By comparison, Condi Rice’s State Department has about 5,000 stateside employees. They are outnumbered 20 to 1 by the intelligence community’s spooks, which may shine a light on why our foreign policy is so spooky and unable to effect any other than belligerent confrontation.
Bob Gates seems to think that’s an unmanageable proportion in a modern-day world. Many of us eel he’s right and the challenge is to realize that men of his capability, experience, wide-ranging relationships and trust among partisans are few and far between. Far, so far and thus far, is counted in decades rather than years.