Worse Than Slanting Estimates, Gates Was Wrong

Article excerpt

THE Senate committee considering the confirmation of Robert Gates is now focusing on whether he slanted intelligence reports. While some slanting is inevitable, it does appear that Mr. Gates was heavy-handed and politically motivated. But more important, his slant was wrong.

Cast in a cold-warrior mindset, Gates consistently failed to see the changes that were brewing in the Soviet Union. During the early-to-mid 1980s, as deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, he was one of the most ardent proponents of the image of the Soviet Union as actively expansionistic.

But during this period the Soviets made no new expansionistic initiatives and were beginning to seriously question their activism in the world. In the later 1980s, as Gorbachev extended a conciliatory hand to the West, Gates, then at the National Security Council, was the loudest administration spokesman downplaying the significance of this apparent change and stressing that the mortal conflict with the Soviet Union was "eternal."

Is this the kind of track record that calls for Gates's elevation to the head of the preeminent United States intelligence agency, and of the intelligence community as a whole? If this track record does not suggest some limitations in judgment, what would?

Imagine that a vice president of a large brokerage house were to advise clients to redirect hundreds of millions of dollars into the stock market. If the market were then to crash, would this deputy be promoted to president?

This analogy is very apt. The kind of analysis promoted by Robert Gates led the US to invest hundreds of billions of dollars, over and above the existing spending levels, to augment the American defense against a perceived increase in the potential for Soviet aggression. We now know that this entire effort was pointless; the Soviets never seriously considered the ambitious options, such as invading Europe or launching a massive counterforce strike, against which these defense expenditures were aimed.

There is little reason to believe that our spending had a significant impact on their thinking. When the Soviets began to pull back from an ambitious foreign policy in the late 1980s, it was because they saw that such efforts benefited them little and were unsustainable by their sputtering economy.

Of course Robert Gates is not personally responsible for this massive misdirection of public funds and the trillion-dollar debt legacy it has left. …