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
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. …