Is former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates becoming a non-interventionist? Has he taken the hard road to conversion that begins with all faith in US power projection and coercive influence and ends up with frenzied and joyous clicking through the pages of LRC and RPI?
That is probably being too optimistic -- though our doors are always open. Nevertheless there is much to fascinate in what we have seen from his new memoir -- and no, it's not the silly personality conflicts and "dissing" Obama with which the mainstream media is obsessed.
For example, Secretary Gates writes (emphasis added):
Wars are a lot easier to get into than out of. Those who ask about exit strategies or question what will happen if assumptions prove wrong are rarely welcome at the conference table when the fire-breathers are demanding that we strike—as they did when advocating invading Iraq, intervening in Libya and Syria, or bombing Iran's nuclear sites. But in recent decades, presidents confronted with tough problems abroad have too often been too quick to reach for a gun. Our foreign and national security policy has become too militarized, the use of force too easy for presidents.It is a tried and true phenomenon that Washington insiders who enjoy power and prestige while in office will upon retirement tell us what they really thought, and how bad things really were. Often they toss political correctness and caution aside like a cheap coat. It is easy to deride such activity as being self-serving and even self-exculpatory.
Today, too many ideologues call for U.S. force as the first option rather than a last resort. On the left, we hear about the "responsibility to protect" civilians to justify military intervention in Libya, Syria, Sudan and elsewhere. On the right, the failure to strike Syria or Iran is deemed an abdication of U.S. leadership. And so the rest of the world sees the U.S. as a militaristic country quick to launch planes, cruise missiles and drones deep into sovereign countries or ungoverned spaces. There are limits to what even the strongest and greatest nation on Earth can do—and not every outrage, act of aggression, oppression or crisis should elicit a U.S. military response.
However there is also a reasonable argument, and perhaps it applies to fmr. Secretary Gates, that the only way to prevent the real crazies from taking over is to stick within the system and try to thwart the most dangerous of the other factions.
For an excellent example of the latter, we who follow the "cruise missile Left" stylings of Samantha Power can only applaud Gates as the "grown-up in the room" warning the Pentagon to keep as much information as possible away from "experts" like Power. In the run-up to the US attack on Libya he ordered his staff:
Don’t give the White House staff and [national security staff] too much information on the military options. They don’t understand it, and ‘experts’ like Samantha Power will decide when we should move militarily.In the end, however, Power and her gang won the day and Libya's "liberation" has proven as successful as the other US efforts in the region -- see: Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, etc.
Likewise, Gates's assessment of uber-interventionist Vice President Joe Biden, the comedic king of verbal blunders. Writes Gates on Biden:
I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.To the degree that Biden's every impulse, every response to foreign events is informed by his sense of American exceptionalism and extraordinarily biased Middle East views, it is hard to argue with Gates's assessment.
So we should not feel reassured that the Obama Administration's rejoinder comes by way of NSC spokesman Caitlin Hayden:
President Obama relies on [Biden's] good counsel every dayOh...well perhaps that explains more than she intended.
What is useful in what we have seen thus far from Gates's book is that beyond the sloganeering of the Left-humanitarian interventionists and their "US leadership" counterparts on the Right, there is still some sense of the limits of US hard -- and perhaps even soft -- power among those who are actually tasked with carrying out the orders cooked up and served by the ideologues.
Let's hope Gates continues on his path and eventually finds himself in our camp, where we seek the real US security that comes from confidence, commerce, diplomacy, defense, and non-intervention.
h/t for quote: MoA