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Who Gets The Last Laugh?


(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Yesterday, Walter Pincus had some interesting reporting about the nomination of Robert Gates to replace Rummy at the Pentagon.  One of the natural tensions in our federal government has always been between the CIA and the DoD — because the folks at the Pentagon have always bristled about having to rely on the CIA for their main sources of intel, and the CIA is always bristling about the DoD questioning their ability to gather intel in the first place. 

When Dick Cheney had his mentor, Don Rumsfeld, installed at the helm of the Pentagon, that tension increased substantially — because Cheney, going back to his own DoD days, has always had a fundamental distrust of any intel coming from outside the DoD.  (You've been able to see his thoughts on this via the glimpses of conduct we've gotten in the CIA Leak case, and the questions of he and Libby pushing Iraq intel with frequent visits to Langley and the whole Doug Feith cooked-up intel shop at the Pentagon in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.)

But the firing of Rummy, and the proposed substitution of Bob Gates really brings that circle back around — and raises a number of questions that need to be asked and answered.

From Pincus, we get a glimpse of the tensions that exist between Cheney and Gates, from back in the day:

In 1991, after being confirmed for the dual role of director of central intelligence and CIA director, Gates tried to rein in Pentagon activities by getting a White House directive from then-President George H.W. Bush that created the Community Management Staff to help oversee all intelligence activities. A CIA history of that period says Gates, whose background was as an analyst, saw the Defense Intelligence Agency "as 'feeling [its] oats' and 'moving to expand in every direction,' including pushing some 'crazy ideas' " on the collection of human intelligence.

Gates's 1991 initiative "caused some heartburn in DOD, partly because he used the word 'management,' " requiring him to send out an explanatory joint statement signed by himself and then-Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney.

More recently, Gates watched Rumsfeld create the position of undersecretary of defense for intelligence, whose role is to coordinate and expand worldwide military intelligence activities in the post-Sept. 11 world. In an op-ed piece in The Washington Post in May, Gates wrote that he and other CIA veterans were "unhappy about the dominance of the Defense Department in the intelligence arena" at a time when "close cooperation between the military and the CIA in both clandestine and intelligence collection is essential."

The article supported Gen. Michael V. Hayden becoming CIA director in part because Hayden, while director of the National Security Agency, opposed Rumsfeld keeping control of the NSA instead of having it move to the new director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte. Gates went on to say that the combination of Negroponte and Hayden would establish "a strong civilian institutional counterbalance and alternative strategic intelligence perspective to the historically strong Defense Department intelligence arm."

I don't know about you guys, but I would love to have been in the room when Bush had some minion tell Dead-eye Dick that his pal was out and that Gates was being nominated to replace him.   And if I were Stephen Cambone, I might consider beefing up my resume.  He might be needing to shop it around if Gates wins through the nomination process.  I'm just saying.

Larry Johnson had some similar thoughts about the impact of this nomination on Dick Cheney, and I wanted to share a snippet with you guys for some context from Larry — who actually knows Gates.

Gates is not an ideologue. He is a conservative politically but he is also willing to entertain outside views. Even though he demonstrated a willingness to "cook" the intel books and play politics with analysts at the CIA in the 1980s, his subsequent tenure at the National Security Council and as head of the CIA in the 1990s won praise from both ends of the political spectrum. One former senior CIA manager recently told me that the management of the interagency Deputies Committee during Gates' stint at the National Security Council was superb.

The Gates era at DOD will bring an end to Rummy's reign of terror. Rummy and his coterie of neocons bullied and bashed the military, particularly in the summer of 2002, for its reluctance to accept Rummy's demand to invade Iraq with a light force. Rummy came to the job with preconceived ideas and was unwilling to entertain dissent or alternative views. There is no doubt that the military officers on the Joint Staff are heaving a great sigh of relief these days. Gates, by contrast, will welcome strong briefers and will defer to military recommendations that are fully supported by evidence.

The appointment of Gates also marks the end of Cheney's dominance within the Bush Administration. Cheney has been conspicuously absent since the Republicans were routed at the polls. His efforts to save Rummy were rebuffed. And with the Senate in the hands of the Democrats, Cheney's influence on the Hill is over. Don't be surprised if Dick Cheney develops a heart condition in the next couple of months that will force him to resign as the Vice President. Whether he stays or goes, the era of Cheney's supremacy at the White House is done. The neocons are discredited, as is Cheney, and their pet projects–from warrantless wiretapping to torture to trashing habeus corpus–are dead as well.

Interesting times we live in, aren't they?  Especially when you read the quote cited by Fred Kaplan at Slate that came from WH communications director Dan Bartlett:

It dumbs this whole thing down to say that this is the victory of the pragmatists over the ideologues. We are going to be practical in some respects, and ideological in others.

So, let's see, have we decided to stop making our own realities yet? I'm not quite at the point where I'll believe that, so you'll pardon me if I wait for actions as well as words from the Bush Administration on this one. President Rose-Colored Glasses hasn't exactly been a paragon of hard truths and challenging his worldview, now has he?

But the oddest bit of all that I've been able to find regarding Gates comes via the Iran-Contra special counsel's report from back in the Lawrence Walsh investigation days. 

The evidence established that Gates was exposed to information about North's connections to the private resupply operation that would have raised concern in the minds of most reasonable persons about the propriety of a Government officer having such an operational role. Fiers and Cannistraro believed that Gates was aware of North's operational role. The question was whether there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Gates deliberately lied in denying knowledge of North's operational activities. A case would have depended on the testimony of Poindexter. Fiers would not testify that he supplied Gates with the details of North's activities. In the end, Independent Counsel concluded that the question was too close to justify the commitment of resources. There were stronger, equally important cases to be tried. (at fn 28)

Funny how that "my hard job made me lie" defense keeps surfacing when Republicans get their asses in touble, isn't it? (H/T to reader looseheadprop for tracking down the Special Counsel's Report online for me.)  That's certainly worth a whole line of questioning during the confirmation process, now isn't it?

I'm still wondering who was the catalyst for dumping Rummy and inserting Gates.  My money would be on Poppy and James Baker, neither of whom have any love lost for Dick Cheney at this point, if the Beltway Rumor Mill is accurate.  Whether or not Gates should be confirmed is the subject for another post altogether — but being able to watch the internal wrestling match within the Bush White House between the neocons and the reality brigades through the lens of this one proposed switch-out at the Pentagon?  Worth the price of admission and then some.

Who gets the last laugh?  I'd say folks at the CIA are having a big chuckle at Dick Cheney's expense these days.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com