Magazine article The American Conservative

Iron Gates

Magazine article The American Conservative

Iron Gates

Article excerpt

Obama's secretary of defense is still a Bush man.

SHORTLY AFTER Robert Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, New York Times columnist David Brooks called him a "godsend." That was hardly the first or last time Brooks failed to see through a veneer. In fairly short order, Robert Gates has become a champion of American warmongery and, in many ways, a more effective handmaiden of the neoconservative agenda than Rummy ever was.

Gates can sound like the steady hand at the helm of our ship of war. "The United States is unlikely to repeat another Iraq or Mghanistan," he assures us. "U.S. predominance in conventional warfare," he says, "is sustainable for the medium term given current trends," and "the days of hair-trigger superpower confrontation are over."

But pass a thumbnail over his rhetoric and you'll find a man with the plan to keep America perpetually mired in Third World wars while arming itself to fight World War III.

Since the Berlin Wall came down, America's armed services have been on a mission to justify their budgets. Jargon like "transformation" and "revolution in military affairs" dominated force-planning strategies throughout the 1990s. With no rival for open-ocean supremacy, the Navy focused on projecting air and land power ashore from littoral waters. The Army, Jacking a large continental conflict to fight or prevent, retooled itself for rapid deployment to global hot spots. Absent any air superiority challenge or a strategic target set to bomb, the Air Force became the Army's chauffeur. The result was a Navy that's a coast guard with an air force and an army, an Army that's a marine corps, and an Air Force that's an airline.

This Dr. Moreau force structure failed to defend us against the 9/11 attacks or to deter them, and only Bill Kristol and his thousand closest friends think our military is serving America's interests overseas. Yet incredibly, one of Gates's stated goals is "sustaining the institution."

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Gates says, "The defining principle of the Pentagon's new National Defense Strategy is balance." His idea of balance seems to cover the spectrum from plucking cats out of trees to projecting power beyond the Van Allen radiation belt.

Gates admits that we have no need to prepare for a major ground war and says he expects we'll steer clear of further counterinsurgency bogs, but he was also behind the initiative to add 92,000 troops to the Army and Marines by 2011-the biggest boost in ground-force manning since the long war in Vietnam. Now Gates wants young bodies to wage a long war against an -ism, a kind of war that the globally respected defense analysts at the Rand Corporation insist is best conducted with "a light U.S. military footprint or none at all."

Displaying MacArthuresque disdain for the campaign promises of the new commander in chief and the status of forces agreement between Iraq and the U.S., Gates says, "there will continue to be some kind of US. advisory and counterterrorism effort in Iraq for years to come." One gathers that he means "years to come after 2011." Afghanistan, he says, "will require a significant US military and economic commitment for some time."

Gates doesn't try to justify American entanglement in the Middle East with the standard "if we leave, they'll follow us here" boo. Maybe he's thinking everyone realizes by now that "they" don't have a navy or air force that can get them here in significant numbers, and they can't jump or swim that far. But the arguments he does make for staying the quagmire course are just as preposterous: "The United States' ability to deal with future threats will depend on its performance in current conflicts."

Nothing in history indicates that the result of any given war dictates the outcome of conflicts that follow. America was on its way to posting an undefeated century until our fiasco in Southeast Asia came along. …

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