Is Robert Gates hoping that if Barack Obama is elected president, he will keep him on as Secretary of Defense?
It sure looks like it. Last week, while speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Gates tacitly endorsed Obama’s famous identification of Afghanistan as the central front in the war on terror. After a few brief and perfunctory remarks about Iraq, Gates spent most of his address talking about Afghanistan, which he proclaimed to be “the test, on the grandest scale, of what we are trying to achieve when it comes to integrating the military and the civilian, the public and private, the national and international.”
Nor was that the only indication that Gates is extending a virtual CV in Obama’s direction. In his address, Gates noted that “in the wake of the end of the Cold War, a new threat has emerged to menace peace-loving people of all nations and all religions.” That threat? “Violent extremism,” which Gates said “seeks to eject all westerners and western influence from the Middle East and Southwest Asia, to destroy Israel, and overthrow all secular and western-oriented governments in the region.” He explained that these “violent extremists” have “unlimited ‘ideological zeal,’” but he never even came close to explaining the content of that ideology, which would of course have required him to talk about Islam. This politically correct tack is sure to endear him to those who may soon be deciding who will oversee Obama’s Pentagon.
Gates’ analysis of this “violent extremism” echoed Obama’s: he said that the threat emanated from “failed and failing states, from ungoverned spaces.” In this, he hewed closely to Obama’s statements in an interview last summer, when the candidate attributed the rise of “extremist elements” to “a shift in Islam that I believe is connected to the failures of governments and the failures of the West to work with many of these countries, in order to make sure that opportunities are there, that there’s bottom-up economic growth.” (The refutation of the idea that economic growth will end support for jihad terrorism is staring Gates and Obama in the face, and its name is Saudi Arabia — but neither seems to have noticed.) And Obama would approve of Gates’ pious admonition that “our own national security toolbox must be well-equipped with more than just hammers” — i.e., it needs to be filled with goodies for regimes that tell the State and Defense Departments what they want to hear.
One would think that Gates would know better by this time, especially after recent revelations of how the Musharraf government in Pakistan was for years taking American money to fight against jihad terrorists and simultaneously aiding those same jihad terrorists. Indeed, less than three weeks before his address to the Institute of Peace, Gates was asked during an appearance at the National Defense University in Washington how the incoming President might smooth over the tense situation between the U.S. and Iran. Gates’ reply was telling: “I have been involved,” he said, “in the search for the elusive Iranian moderate for 30 years.” Then Gates recounted an incident from a 1979 meeting between then-National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and officials of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran. Gates, who was there, said Brzezinski told the Iranians that the U.S. would recognize the Khomeini government and even sell Iran weapons, but that the Iranians demanded that the U.S. hand over the Shah to them. When the U.S. refused, they stormed the American Embassy in Tehran, thus beginning the hostage crisis. Mideast analyst Barry Rubin commented: “Had the United States been a mean bully in its treatment of the new Islamist Iran? On the contrary, Washington did everything possible to negotiate, conciliate, and build confidence. We’ll do almost anything you want, Carter and Brzezinski offered, just be our friend. Far from being appeased, Iran demanded such a total humiliation — turning over the fatally ill, deposed Shah for execution — even that administration couldn’t accept it.”
Gates, with his talk of diversifying our current alleged hammers-only approach to “violent extremism,” and his apparent politically correct unwillingness to delineate the true motives and goals of those who would destroy us, seems determined to go down this road again. As far as Obama is concerned, that may be just fine and spare him the trouble of finding a new Secretary of Defense. But will America be able to pay the cost of still more politically correct myopia and appeasement?