Gates keeping admin honest
By Ralph Peters
New York Post
April 21, 2010
Robert Gates isn't just our secretary of defense -- he's our national damage-control officer.
The closest thing this love-your-enemies administration has to an indispensable man, Gates is fighting the good fight in the worst of times.
Ever since signing on as President George W. Bush's SecDef in early 2005, Gates has fought to reform the Air Force, improve the Pentagon's dysfunctional acquisition system, give our troops in the field what they really need and cut through the red tape that's paid for in red blood.
The greatest sacrifice any top-echelon public figure has made in decades was Gates' agreement to stay at his post and serve the new administration. He wanted to go back to Texas. Instead, he stood up in the line of fire.
Vital work: SecDef Gates is limiting the harm the Obama team's inflicting on our national security.(AP)
That new administration's rapidly getting old, but Gates continues to serve, struggling to limit the damage done to our national defense.
Recently, he fought to keep our new nuclear-giveaway treaty with Russia within tolerable bounds. That treaty's bad -- but without Gates it would have been worse. Now we know that he was also pushing on Iran.
Last week, somebody (not Gates) leaked a January memo the SecDef sent to the White House. The message? We need to prepare for all contingencies regarding Iran. Now.
The New York Times reported the leak breathlessly and vaguely. But Gates was just doing his duty -- saying, essentially, Mr. President, you may hope that Russia and China will support meaningful sanctions, and you may hope that Iran will give up its nuclear ambitions, but it would be irresponsible not to plan for the worst.
If forced to take military action against Iran, we'd better have a realistic plan. The president couldn't just phone the SecDef one fine morning and tell him to take out Iran that afternoon. It may work that way in Hollywood, but reality's another matter.
A serious campaign against Iran's nuclear program wouldn't be a matter of a few quick pinpoint strikes, but of massively complex coordination, from positioning forces and prepping allies, to airspace management (a devilish challenge in a surprise attack, with commercial aircraft everywhere) and protecting the region's energy infrastructure.
War planning isn't just about getting the initial attack right, but involves calculating how to respond to the actions the enemy could take after the bombs start hitting. The planning process also identifies previously unrecognized vulnerabilities and challenges.
All plans evolve once the bullets fly, but the more rigorous your preparation, the readier you are to deal with the full range of consequences.
Our military knows how to plan. The problem -- a bipartisan one -- is that Washington elites don't want the military to plan for realistic scenarios. Because serious planning makes the costs and dangers of policies all too clear.
We first saw this see-no-evil pattern under President Bush, when Pentagon neo-cons (with no military experience) forbade planning for an occupation of Iraq. They didn't just refuse to acknowledge any possible need for an occupation, they feared that detailed planning would reveal the potential costs of taking down Saddam -- numbers that might've been a red flag to Congress.
The consequences of failing to plan? The price we paid after reaching Baghdad without a "what now?" plan was vastly higher in lives and dollars than it should have been.
Now we face a similar threat from the other side of the aisle. Peace-at-any-price zealots don't want a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, no matter what. Their avoidance technique is to prevent serious military planning -- under the principle that, "If we don't prepare for it, it can't happen."
Once again, we may end up sending in our forces under disastrous political restrictions, with unrealistic goals and inadequate resources. Gates is doing his damnedest to prevent that.
Yet grumpy conservatives mumble that he should resign in protest over Obama's policies.
Really? You want Gates gone? Who do you think this administration would nominate to take his place? William Tecumseh Sherman?
One man stands between a willfully naive administration and a colossal bloody mess in the Persian Gulf: Bob Gates, American hero.
Ralph Peters' new book is "Endless War."