Gates vs. Biden is good theater, though facts are debateable

Date Published: 
January 17, 2014

Robert Gates has criticized Vice President Joe Biden in his recent book, “Duty,” saying that Biden has been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades” and that he “has poisoned the well” against the military leadership.

These are clearly very partisan remarks by a Republican Secretary of Defense. Why is it that some Republicans believe that Democrats don’t trust the military? I remember similar comments made in the early Clinton presidency. Is it to imply that President Clinton or his staff was un-American? Gates remarks imply the same kind of innuendo directed against the current vice resident.

Of course, the lessons learned in Vietnam said that maybe our generals should not be trusted all the time. President Harry S. Truman ended his trust in Gen. Douglas MacArthur because of his public statements of bombing across the Yalu River and then fired him. President John F. Kennedy ended his trust in the military because of the advice given him in the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. So there is some historical record on the issue.

Regarding being wrong on every issue, one must keep in mind that Vice President Biden over the four decades was reflecting views by many Democrats and those of his party. But if Gates deplored Biden’s view so much, why did he agree to stay on and later urged by President Obama stay longer?

Biden’s positions often reflected mainstream views, and views held by foreign policy experts. He worked with Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the prestigious Council of Foreign Relations, a non-partisan think-tank. Thus, one can surmise that some of his proposals were well-grounded in academic thought and supported by in the Council of Foreign Relations.

Gates does not know what his recommendation would be on the Bush 2003 decision to invade Iraq. So how can he criticize Biden when he was undecided about most important foreign policy and national security issue of the decade?

Biden was on record that he wanted Saddam Hussein out of power and voted in support of the Senate resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq. Does he disagree with that view? Because of the mismanagement of the Bush war, many leaders then changed their view of the war, and withdrawal from Iraq became a popular solution. Biden echoed that view when he proposed the Biden-Brownback Resolution, which passed the Senate by an overwhelming majority, including 26 Republican votes. Does he disagree with that view?

However, Gates should know better than anyone that the Afghanistan war is a conundrum that hasn’t been answered yet and makes the formulation of foreign policy exceedingly difficult for any policymaker. Should the U.S. become involved in a war to prevent a “failed state” in which Al Qaeda or affiliated groups could dominate it to provide a launching ground for future U.S. attacks?

Has Gates been right on all the foreign policy issues in the last 40 years? David Hoffman writes about Gates in his book “The Dead Hand” that Gates as a Soviet expert in the CIA was trying to steer CIA analysis in such a way to persuade President Ronald Reagan against working with the Soviet leader.

Gates argued that Gorbachev was not a reformer and not to be trusted, and mounted a campaign on that basis. Gates was wrong on most accounts on this issue and on ending the cold war.

Perhaps his comments were made to sell his book, knowing that his book and comments would get a lot of publicity. However, Gates should have waited until Obama was out of office, rather than cripple the conducting of foreign policy by Obama.

Gates has accomplished many successes in his long government tenure, and he should have focused on them rather than take out his vendetta against Biden.

Perry J. Mitchell is a retired professor of political science living in Ocean View. He has taught international relations courses for more than 30 years.