and the Tortured World of American Intelligence
By Roger Morris
"I may be dangerous," he said,
"but I am not wicked. No, I am not wicked." -- Henry James, The American
It was a failed administration's ritual scapegoating, the ousting last winter of its ruinous secretary of defense. But in the sauve qui peut confirmation of his replacement -- "The only thing that mattered," said a Senate aide, "was that he was not Don Rumsfeld" -- there was inadvertent irony.
With George W. Bush's choice of ex-CIA Director Robert Gates to take over the Pentagon, this most uninformed of presidents unwittingly gave us back vital pages of our recent history. If Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and the neoconservative claque in the second echelon of the administration are all complicit in today's misrule, Gates personifies older, equally serious, if less recognized, less remembered abuses. His laden résumé offers needed evidence that Washington's tortuous, torturing foreign policies did not begin with the Bush regime -- and will not end with it.
While Rumsfeld's record bared some of Washington's uglier realities and revealed the depth of decay in the U.S. military, Gates' long passage through the world of espionage and national security illuminates other dark corners -- specters of the Cold War still haunting us, nether regions of flawed, corrupted intelligence, and the malignant legacy of foreign policy's evil twin, covert intervention.
Like the Senate, the media welcomed Gates, in the words of the Christian Science Monitor, as the "Un-Rumsfeld." In the wake of his flinty predecessor, he arrived as a smiling, silver-haired cherub of Midwestern earnestness. That image seemed borne out by his swift firings of ranking Army officials in the Walter Reed scandal, his apparent questioning of the value of the Pentagon's notorious penal colony at Guantánamo, his more moderate (or at least conventionally diplomatic) rhetoric in the international arena, and even his heresy in mentioning respectfully -- and quaintly -- the Constitutional role of "the press" in a Naval Academy commencement address.
For all his relative virtues in 2007, however, Gates remains a genuine Jekyll-and-Hyde character, a best-yet-worst of America as it flung its vast power over the world. To appreciate who and what he was -- and so who and what he is likely to be now, at one of the most critical junctures ever to face a secretary of defense -- is to retrace much of the shrouded side of American foreign policy and intelligence for the last half-century or more. Most Americans hardly know that record, though its reckonings are with us today -- with a vengeance. At the unexpected climax of his long career, the 63 year-old Gates faces not only the toll of the disastrous regime he joins, but of his own legacy as well.
This is a vintage American chronicle with dramatic settings and dark secrets. The cast ranges from hearty boosters in
As with so many good stories, it begins on a train -- two trains, in fact, crossing landscapes worlds apart, a great separation Robert Gates was heir to, revealing much about the man -- and us.
"Heart of the Vortex"
One of the Santa Fe Railroad's old diamond-stacked, wood-burning locomotives, chugging in off the Kansas prairie on what civic historians memorialized as "a dark and stormy night" in May 1872, was the making of Wichita. Finagled by boosters with government bonds and railroad-company influence, beginning a flow of private profit from public money and political favor that would be the hallmark of the town (and nation), the new tracks thrust the settlement ahead of competing sites as a lucrative depot for great cattle drives up the old Chisholm Trail.
A sizable pool of oil was discovered nearby in 1915, and a year later
By 1951, busy McConnell Air Force Base, its runways conveniently verging on Boeing's, roared with the bounty of Cold War budgets. It was already home to a Strategic Air Command wing and soon to an outlying horseshoe of 18 Titan II missile sites. Ever abreast of the times,
Just as typically, the model had dissidents. Behind booster smiles, labor always met the anti-union snarl of the corporations and the city they ruled. For the less than 10% of the community that was African-American or Hispanic, unrelieved racism, face-to-face mockery, went with Brown v. Board, part and parcel of early desegregating
Their bane was the "vortex," the interlaced cultural-economic tyrannies and personal duplicities of what one of them called the "Suburbia, Materialism and Conformity ‘Donna Reed/Leave it to Beaver' identity held dear by a largely white, educated middle class." So archetypal was the critique that primal-beat poet Alan Ginsberg sought out the place on a Guggenheim-financed road trip in 1966, finding "radio aircraft assembly frame ammunition petroleum nightclub Newspaper streets." He plunged boldly "On to
A Man Without Anecdotes
In that same year, as Ginsberg recited, one of the Vortex's most commendable sons, destined to be perhaps its most influential, was being recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency. Robert Michael Gates was an example the Wichita Group would have found characteristic, if not prophetic -- an all-American boy in the all-American town.
He was born in the fall of 1943, during
His early ambition to be a doctor offered a ready excuse for otherwise suspect science projects, experiments on rats he kept in his basement or the boiling of cat carcasses to examine their skeletons. (Alexander Cockburn, one of his least forgiving critics, called him "a cat torturer/drowner in his youth.") He even attended the same grade school as future Republican Senator Arlen Specter (who, in Gates' 1991 confirmation hearing for CIA Director, vouched personally for the exceptional quality of their elementary education). Gates went on to excel at Wichita East, education-proud
largest high school.
He was also an Eagle Scout. More than just another rite of male passage, it was for him credential, qualification, identity -- a talisman of innocence and purity -- and he would cling to it. He often listed his Distinguished Eagle Scout Award ahead of his CIA medals and, at 63, earnestly served as president of the National Eagle Scout Association even as he became secretary of defense.
After a quarter-century in government, participating in some of the most crucial episodes of his era, Gates observed it all, yet in a sense owned none of it, preferring to identify himself first and foremost with the rank he won in 1950s Wichita. "That's how he started," said a colleague, "and no matter what he's done or how things turned out, that's how he wants to be seen." In the nation's future spymaster and bureaucrat of the covert as oath-bound Eagle Scout, there was, of course, Hardy Boys irony.
Beyond his merit badges, media profiles over the years offered remarkably little of the flesh-and-blood man who served as a senior official for three presidents. It was as if rigorous CIA checks had already ruled out any of the unwieldy personal details. Gates' own 600-page memoir typically told almost nothing of his background. "Friends remember him," Time recounted in 1991, "as a child who demonstrated a need and a knack for pleasing his elders." His Midwestern provenance left him self-conscious, yet defiant, among the CIA's vestigial Eastern elite and in
a State Department he ridiculed as "guys with last names for first names." He was, as he proudly pointed out, of "plain tastes and middlebrow origins," so prairie practical and provincial that whenever he saw someone carrying flowers, he asked in utter seriousness, "Where's the funeral?"
brightly. It was accepted, after all, that the
In 1961, he went off to William and Mary, the venerable college in
It was not a usual
recruited Gates, and he was given a generous scholarship. On arrival, he was ushered into the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, while Landis set him up driving a school bus part-time for pocket money. He also enlisted Gates as an adviser to a local scout troop and got him to join his church. The two Kansans settled into what other students saw as a "straight-arrow, no-nonsense" routine.
Asked recently what the future CIA director and defense secretary did for extracurricular activities in the eventful 1960s, Landis, a retired educator, replied simply, "We did scouts and we went to church." Actually, Gates was also a dorm advisor and business manager for a campus literary and arts magazine and, while
already-discreet Bob never revealed his politics to Landis, he was also active in the Young Republicans.
The "scholar scout," as a college newspaper called him in 2007, began in pre-med but soon switched to European History. Timothy Sullivan, who sat in courses with him and went on to be president of the college, thought Gates "immensely disciplined, really smart and obviously very ambitious." Like most witnesses along the way, Sullivan could remember no "sparkling anecdotes" about the famous man, but assumed the qualities behind his later success must have been "in some form or other evident" at the time. They were all, he did remember, "undergraduates who didn't know much about the world and certainly nothing about the world in which we were going to wind up."
At commencement in 1965, the service fraternity, scout troop, school bus, church, and campus work all won him the college's award as the senior making "the greatest contribution to his fellow man" (another accolade faithfully retained in his résumé). He was interested now in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Bloc, perhaps in teaching, though
later he would say that the assassination of John F. Kennedy in his junior year moved him to think as well of public service.
He would take a fellowship for a master's in history at Indiana University, a well-funded Soviet and East European Affairs center known for training future government officials and academics in the Cold War's most valued specialization. "A real patriot in the very best sense of the word," was the way Landis summed up his Kansas friend. It was one thing the Vortex and Wichita Group might have agreed on.
The Baltic Syndrome
Our story's other train was more exotic, a muscular new Red Putilov engine emblazoned with the hammer and sickle and pulling an ornate, plush wagon-lit with scars still raw where the imperial double-headed eagle of the Romanoff Tsars had been chiseled off. The year was 1933. Rolling eastward across the Russian plain, the swaying car carried the first U.S. diplomats dispatched to Moscow as President Franklin Roosevelt recognized the Soviet Union after some 15 years of severed relations following the Bolshevik Revolution.
Aboard was a 29 year-old foreign service officer, later to become famous as a diplomat and scholar, George Kennan. Though he was already deemed a government expert on Russia, the train provided Kennan's first actual exposure to the Soviet Union. As he listened to their escort, Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, reminisce in London-fluent English
about growing up in a village by the rail line, about books he read as a boy and his dreams of becoming a librarian, the Princeton-educated diplomat from Milwaukee was astonished. "We suddenly realized, or at least I did, that these people we were dealing with were human beings like ourselves." Kennan noted, as if making a scientific discovery, "that they had been born somewhere, that they had their childhood ambitions as we had." It would prove but a fleeting moment of respite in an endless ordeal of mutual ignorance, dogmatism, and dread.
In his surprise, Kennan symbolized generations of U.S. officials who would continue to see the Soviet Union through the prism not only of native provincialism and ideological hostility, but also the pervasive bias of their training. Pre-world-power America, in its isolation, knew little of the old Russia and even less of the tumultuous, often
savage new politics of class and revolutionary party power that followed the Bolsheviks' coup of November 1917. "A fearsome set of internationalists and logicians," Winston Churchill had called the new Soviet leaders with Tory wrath, "a sub-human structure upon the ruins of Christian civilization." While a million Americans now voted socialist and there was
some early sympathy for the "Reds," most of the U.S. from Wall Street to Main Street shared Churchill's reflexive fear and loathing, if not his florid elocution.
Anti-capitalist Soviet Russia was not merely a disagreeable state on some far horizon, but an immediate threat to domestic tranquility. Alarm gripped even the most respectable of newspapers, in which the Bolsheviks, like early Christians in Rome or Jews in Medieval Europe, were reliably reported to be eating babies and committing other unspeakable outrages. "BRUTALITIES OF THE BOLSHEVIKI," announced a typical 1919 headline in the usually sedate New York Times, "STRIP WOMEN IN STREETS -- PEOPLE OF EVERY CLASS EXCEPT THE SCUM SUBJECTED TO VIOLENCE BY
In the late summer of 1918, U.S. troops landed in north Russia and in Siberia, part of a joint military intervention with the French, British, and Japanese to aid the monarchists and turn the tide against the Bolsheviks in the Russian civil war; meanwhile, across America, an accompanying Great Red Scare loosed mass arrests, persecutions, and deportations of foreign radicals of every stripe. It was "a moment of political repression," wrote noted historian Howard Zinn, "unparalleled in United States history." In a sweeping onslaught of reaction, all-American Wichita would, by 1919, imprison and try hundreds of its citizens, assumed seditious, if not terrorist, simply for having joined, or worked for, a
Over the next two decades of mortgaged peace, Washington and other Western powers would abide tyrannies around the world -- Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Fascist Spain, as well as despots from China to Argentina. Yet the Soviet Union was in another category, "untenable, unacceptable, unimaginable," as one writer put it. In geopolitics and language, the new revolutionary state was to be treated as an infected patient, held in isolation behind a cordon sanitaire (as Kennan would himself so famously urge after World War II in his celebrated, if unoriginal, policy of "containment").
With Washington refusing even to recognize the Soviet regime throughout the 1920s, no posting or direct exposure to Russia was possible for the officials charged with keeping watch on the scourge. The fall-back position was academic training in the nature of the new regime; and, since expertise was lacking in American colleges, Washington sent its Kennans to study Soviet affairs at European universities. The "experts" they found there, however, were almost exclusively exiles from Tsarist Russia, expatriates by class, outlook, and personal history, loathing -- but also largely ignorant of -- Soviet rule, and often financially as well as sentimentally nostalgic for the fallen autocracy.
Few of history's losers owed defeat more to political blindness or were more blinded by defeat; and no victims remained more staunchly oblivious to what had befallen them than the Russian émigré exodus. Knowing Russia so little to begin with, Washington's representatives proved incapable of seeing just how distorted were the perspectives of their mentors, whose reflexive animus, after all, America's top officials shared without the encumbrance of knowledge. Lost from the start were intellectual integrity and independent judgment, those most basic necessities for any diplomatic or
intelligence service and, of course, for formulating national policy.
From that corrupted tutelage, freshly minted U.S. specialists were commonly assigned to Latvia or Estonia, small Baltic states conquered by Russia in the eighteenth century but now (briefly) independent. These became Meccas for the anti-Soviet Diaspora, in many respects small replicas of the caste system and reactionary politics of Imperial Russia itself. So it was that America's diplomats, expected to understand and interpret the Soviet Union for vast stakes, were shaped not only by an insular and fearful American culture, but also by the pervasive lost-world bias of their trainers. Not surprisingly, a Baltic Syndrome ripened and settled into career orthodoxy. Without having set foot there, America's early "experts" on the USSR, men who would shape policy in the Cold War, formed indelible attitudes "while studying Russia from afar."
Kennan's epiphany on the train proved short-lived. The Soviets soon plunged into the nightmare world of dictator Joseph Stalin's Great Purges. Facing the accompanying craze of xenophobia and suspicion, U.S. diplomats reacted predictably. The outwardly charming, patrician ambassador from Philadelphia, William Bullitt, Jr., regretted in
dispatches the influence in the Kremlin of a "wretched little kike" whom he discreetly did not identify by
name -- as opposed to what he called "straight" Russians (whom he tolerated only slightly more). Fluent in Russian, but in the disappeared Russia of their émigré tutors, Kennan and his colleagues understood little of the rulers and ruled in a society so separated from them by class and perspective. "Weird developments" was the way one of them characterized the murderous midnight arrests and show trials that ravaged the USSR in the 1930s, seemingly inscrutable events rooted in defining struggles between crushing backwardness and revolutionary fervor, democracy and dictatorship, confident openness and fearful isolation.
The embassy found even more baffling an undeniable popular support for the tyranny that had so savagely extinguished the great Enlightenment and Western social democratic ideals of the Revolution. Behind the Communist Party despotism lay a chilling authenticity in the "dictatorship of the proletariat," which had carried upward a new stratum of privilege and power. Kennan would not bother with the "hackneyed question of how far Bolshevism has changed Russia" -- so he began a 1938 State Department lecture. Missing much of the point of the past 20 years and the 50 to come, he stressed what he considered the historical essence of a people: Russia's congenital "Asiatic" aggressiveness and penchant for "Byzantine" intrigue. "After all," he explained with no audible irony or hint of self-awareness, "nations, like individuals, are largely the products of their environment..."
For its part, Washington had no official doubts about the evil paradox of the Soviets, a system seen as mad and inept, yet diabolical and relentless, its policies cruelly capricious yet cunningly planned. "We were all agreed," as one of Kennan's superiors put it archly, "what was the situation in the USSR."
Cartoon Worlds, Russian and American
Through the inter-war years, and especially after World War II, the specialists, invariably in agreement, advised a coterie of senior officials whose own consensus was historic. Their names made up a roll call of men who shaped postwar U.S. policy and much of the world in the second, American half of the twentieth century -- Secretary of
State Dean Acheson, Secretary of Defense and Undersecretary of State Robert Lovett, Ambassador Averill Harriman, Assistant Secretary of Defense and World Bank President John McCloy, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, State Department aide Paul Nitze, and a handful of others. With much inbreeding of schools, firms, and society, theirs was a universe of Groton, polo, and tennis,
of Wall Street combines, rich wives, shaded estates, "wealth, cleverness, and social grace," as Evan Thomas and Walter Isaacson described it -- and of congenial precepts about world affairs, including ready agreement about Russia. It was, above all, a circle of fateful insularity.
Assumed to be of broad experience, they were men who had never experienced the Depression torment of their era, as so many of their countrymen had, to say nothing of the upheavals of war and revolution that convulsed so much of the early twentieth-century world. Apparently cultured, they had cultivated no sensibility for societies beyond those of Western Europe. Typically, the lean, magnetic young financier Bob Lovett played the mimic for his Long Island weekend circle, with rubber-faced, reportedly hilariously accented parodies of the world's laughable people -- Russians, Arabs, and Chinese among others.
In its lurid propaganda of the period, the Soviet tyranny barraged its own predominantly peasant, still largely pre-modern populace with cartoons of vulture-like figures labeled Wall Street bankers and
corporate lawyers, all visibly anti-Slavic bigots of reactionary venom. Like the matching portraits of bomb-throwing Bolsheviks in American cartoons, the images exploited the primal. Yet, in ways long unrecognized in the U.S., the men who governed Washington's relations with the world lent much flesh-and-blood credence to the crude caricatures on the walls of Soviet factories and collective farms.
What America's analysts and policy-makers lost in their stunted worldview was the sheer complexity, contradiction, and paradox of the Soviet Union, all relevant to informed policy. Missing between myopia and phobia was the authentic alternative to the Baltic Syndrome's policy by caricature: an intellectual openness and seriousness, honesty and sensibility, that might have led to genuine insight, to actual "intelligence" that could have saved lives and fortunes, even moderated the Kremlin tyranny and hastened its end.
As a post-Soviet flood of archives has revealed (though it was no secret even during the years of Soviet rule), Moscow's foreign policy was waged more often in caution than aggressiveness, more out of weakness than strength, and with an abiding parochial fear and ignorance of the U.S., a hostility that Washington's acts in kind only reinforced, justified, and prolonged. So much of the great "superpower" rivalry was what John Le Carré would aptly call a
grotesque "looking-glass war."
The Soviet leaders had been seared by revolution, intervention, purges, the West's cynical efforts to push Hitler east in the 1930s, and the near-defeat and utter destruction of World War II, followed by U.S. postwar dominance and encirclement in which they found themselves an eternal half-hour from nuclear annihilation ("I'll climb the Eiffel Tower and spit on all of Europe," the provincial Leonid Brezhnev, a future Kremlin leader, had said defiantly but pitifully in 1945.) The postwar Soviet leadership were creatures of their preconceptions and preoccupations, and of their odious politics, as much as any ruling class in history. Yet to relegate them to caricature, to ignore the touchstones of their lives, was
ultimate folly. What American specialists saw were not fearful, compromised "human beings like ourselves," but monstrous, implacable, mythically evil enemies in ill-fitting suits, to be opposed at all costs, with the end -- the "defeat" of Russia one way or another -- justifying the means.
The stakes were incalculable. The Cold War would fatally mortgage domestic and foreign affairs in the world's two most powerful countries, enthroning corrupt oligarchs in each who mocked the ideals -- political democracy in the case of the U.S., economic in the case of Russia -- for which so many had died. Their "superpower" clash would dominate world politics for more than four decades. It would draft tens of millions, devour fortunes, cordon Europe and Asia off into armed camps, entangle neutrals, wantonly destroy any potential political-economic alternatives to either corrupt system, rouse bitter political struggles on every continent, unleash proxy wars with untold millions of casualties,
periodically threaten nuclear holocaust, and fix the fate of nations from Chile to Cambodia, the Congo to Afghanistan. When it ended in 1991 with the seeming victory of the United States, the outcome recast the planet. It had been the
rivalry of the century, and it threw a still unrecognized curse over the next. No wonder that new period, rather than being given a name of its own, would be known, like some sad afterword, as "the post-Cold War era."
From 1933 to 1945, there was one notable exception to the astigmatism of the specialists and their superiors -- the President of the United States. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that Hudson River squire, harbored no illusions about the Bolsheviks. At the outset of his presidency, he made clear his disgust with what he called "the hunger, death, and bitterness" of Soviet rule. Yet he believed that the Kremlin's foreign policy would be shaped by the acts of other powers and he took a broader view of Russia's painful experiment as well as its profound weakness. "He had some curiosity about the Soviet Union, a measured respect for its accomplishments," judged his biographer James MacGregor Burns, "and a certain sympathy for its goals of social justice, although he doubted that one could obtain 'Utopia in a day.'"
For a dozen years, FDR held at bay the cultivated repugnance of his diplomats and the incestuous bigotry of his plutocratic senior officials. "Frankly, if I were a Russian, I would feel that I had been given the run-around in the United States," he said of a bottleneck in World War II aid to Russia. "If I were a Russian" -- it was not a premise common in government cables, intellligence briefings, or policy papers, then or later;
nor did such essential human empathy necessarily mean some policy simplistically favorable to the Soviets.
In 1944, for instance, Roosevelt was seized with a typical enthusiasm for a postwar plan to reform the ancient feudal land of Iran, to free the country and the Persian Gulf of its historic predators, Russia as well as Britain. The policy would enrage London and Moscow, FDR was told; he nonetheless pressed on. Defying the old empires,
communist or capitalist -- that was to be "an example of what we could do," he told an aide, "by an unselfish American policy."
It was all over in April 1945 with his death. Into the Oval Office moved the more typical American certainty of Harry Truman, a feisty, remorselessly compromised machine politician who would be led in the White House by bellicose, half-informed aides and who gleaned what little he knew of the outside world from a "story book view of history," as his biographer Richard Miller once put it, read with "a rousing Fourth of July patriotism" in rural western Missouri -- not so far up the tracks from the Vortex.
Like Wichita's B-52s and Titan missiles, the CIA was targeted on Russia. As World War II had been for its predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the Cold War was for the CIA. It defined every purpose, and all else incidental. More than 80% of the Agency's ever fattening budget in its early years was locked in the ice floe of the
Baltic Syndrome. The CIA was not to be confused with -- or disposed to confuse the President and his top officials with -- genuine intelligence about countries of the world in and for themselves. The Middle East, Asia, Latin America, Africa -- a region mattered, for the most part, only as it related to the struggle with the Soviet Union. From the Vietnam War to Afghanistan and Iraq -- with scores of lesser-known disasters in between -- that willful negligence was, and remains, immensely damaging.
As it happened, though few American experts seemed to realize it, the target had already been demolished as the Cold War began, a condition from which it never really recovered. If blinkered U.S. specialists missed much of Soviet political or social reality, they could not help seeing the country's sheer physical ruin. Revolution, terror, civil war, purges, collectivization, famine, the horrors of the Gulag, World War II's carnage, still more postwar starvation -- the three-decade toll by various reckonings was in the range of 30-50 million dead and countless maimed, an
inconceivable demography of national desolation.
Whatever the number, the visible result was a USSR in what one of its historians called, with rare candor, "a state of abject poverty." The 1946-47 Ukrainian famine, like the Nazi siege of Leningrad, made gruesome reality of old American news claims of cannibalism. Nikita Khrushchev, the former shepherd and miner, who rose to lead (and reform) the post-Stalin USSR, recounted in horror and shame a scene he had seen himself in postwar Odessa: "The woman had the corpse of her own child on the table, and was cutting it up."
In 1945, welcoming General Dwight Eisenhower to Moscow after their joint victory over the Nazis, Soviet Marshal Georgi Zhukov told his fellow commander that the Soviet plight was even worse than that of the defeated, destroyed Axis powers. "Russia would never place itself in the position of begging," Eisenhower recorded, noting the
plea embedded in Zhukov's description, "but.... he could tell me with the utmost frankness that the standard of living in Russia today was deplorably low, and that it was his conviction that even the present standard in Germany was at least as high as it is in Russia..."
Touring the USSR two years later, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery saw the same far-reaching ruin. "The Soviet Union is very, very tired," he wrote Eisenhower. "Devastation in Russia is appalling and the country is in no fit state to go to war.... It will be 15 to 20 years before Russia will be able to remedy her various defects and be in a position to fight a major world war with a good chance of success."
Nowhere was evidence plainer than in the creaking Soviet military. By 1948, demobilization had reduced the Red Army in Europe from more than eleven million to less than three million. Combat-ready troops matched Western armies numerically, but lacked the equivalent nuclear weapons or strategic air power -- and those were just the most obvious deficits. The Red Army remained shoddily equipped, subject to high rates of desertion and deplorable morale. As late as 1950, half its transport was unmechanized, moving on still badly war-torn roads, with 80% of railway bridges still seriously damaged. Troops were consumed with the occupation of vast new Soviet-controlled territories in Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Balkans, with quelling resistance and supporting the rule of local communists, and, above all, with extracting reparations and rebuilding the demolished USSR. "In the late 1940s, the Red Juggernaut," concluded a post-mortem by a team of scholars years later, "was anything but."
Of condoms and "endings in
Formed in 1947, the CIA proved up to the task of justifying its mission -- despite the enemy's utter exhaustion and preoccupation. By what historian Franklyn Holzman called "politics and guesswork" (what our own era termed "fixing intelligence around the policy"), the Agency launched a long tradition, which Robert Gates would inherit and carry forward two decades later, of the systematic exaggeration of Russian power. To the horse-drawn Soviet occupation army in Eastern Europe, analysts
added phantom divisions, magically restored demobilized troops, and then topped the fictional mix with hair-raising scenarios of a possible invasion of Western Europe. They "exaggerated Soviet capabilities and intentions to such a great extent," as Holzman's study documented 20 later, "that it is surprising anyone took them seriously."
As would be true over the next four decades, the media turned out to have not the slightest difficulty parroting the fabrication. Typically, under the headline, "Russia's Edge in Men and Arms" -- and this was just as the Red Army reached its nadir -- an April 1948 US News announced: "Russia, at this stage, is the world's no.
1 military power [whose] armies and air forces are in a position to pour across Europe and into Asia almost at will."
By now a senior official awash in contrived, ever more ominous intelligence, it was Kennan who completed the CIA's initial portfolio with a 1948 proposal to conduct covert subversion, sabotage, and -- in a term of suitable ambiguity -- "political action" inside Russia, the Soviet Bloc as a whole, or any other country where
the rivals might compete. For the old threat that knew no bounds, foreign or domestic, it was to be containment uncontained. The task was not exactly new for American governments long engaged in freebooting regime-change in Latin America. But the writ for intervention now spread into what, for ever-provincial Washington, were essentially uncharted regions of the world.
Begun under the control of the State Department, covert action was swiftly taken over by an increasingly bureaucratically adept, politically potent CIA. Kennan himself soon had qualms. "I would be extremely careful of doing anything at the governmental end that purports to affect directly the governmental system of another country, no
matter what the provocation may seem," he said in a speech as he left government in 1953. "It is replete with possibilities for misunderstanding and bitterness. To the extent it might be successful it would involve the U.S. in heavy responsibilities." The warning would echo down half-a-century of grim history to Kabul 2001 and Baghdad 2003. But Kennan (whose view policy-makers were glad to accept so long as it agreed with their own) was by then an outsider, like many ex-officials he had already become a prophet without honor in the increasingly close-minded councils of Washington policy-making.
The new mandate for intervention would lie with the innocuously titled "Office of Policy Coordination." After initial fumbling by men far too hesitant, it was handed over to Frank Wisner, a well-to-do southerner and fey Russophobe in the Lovett mold. He came to Washington in his bald, jowly forties by way of a Wall Street law firm, a wartime OSS liaison with Romanian royalty, and the requisite Manhattan and Georgetown society friends from whom he recruited the "old boys" who would give the early CIA much of its outer gloss and inner fatuousness. Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, later Le Carré and others -- a teeming genre -- would portray the smug ignorance, incompetence, sleaze and self-ruin of spies' machinations. But the Wisner club's all-too-real version of life imitated, and improved on, art.
Funded by money skimmed from the Marshall Plan, their "operations" were grim previews -- and parodies -- of things to come, of a world that less than two decades later would be second nature to Robert Gates. The code names were colorful; the realities dark. BLOODSTONE enlisted Nazi SS veterans, most of them war criminals, and placed them in key positions -- from the founders of West German intelligence to CIA-paid advisersto tyrannical client regimes in Iraq, Egypt, Syria, or Saudi Arabia, where they proved adept at organizing secret police and using Gestapo torture methods to deal with domestic democrats and Islamic devouts (wiping out the former while scarring and steeling the latter for a fierce evolution to our jihadist world). MOCKINGBIRD employed Washington Post editor Phil Graham and other ready establishment collaborators to suborn the foreign press and American media. "By the early 1950s," wrote biographer Deborah Davis, "Wisner 'owned' respected members of the New York Times, Newsweek, CBS and other communications vehicles."
Meanwhile, the denizens of "Policy Coordination" set off stink bombs at suspect youth rallies around the world, launched balloons with millions of propaganda leaflets over Soviet satellites as well as the USSR, and sent flocks of agents into Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia to sabotage and foment uprisings, which were
confidently expected momentarily. To attack enemy morale, always presumed to be frail, they schemed to parachute in as well hugely outsized condoms labeled "American medium." Whatever the condom effect, the fate of most agents was clear. Betrayed by sheer ineptitude, Soviet moles, or both -- Wisner was a convivial friend of the legendary Soviet agent Kim Philby and other Kremlin spies high in Western intelligence -- operatives plunged into the Iron Curtain night somewhere south of Rostock or across the Amu Darya at new moon only to appear later as tortured wraiths in some show trial dock or simply to vanish without trace. "Endings in silence," a former control officer called it.
The results of CIA covert actions were far more bracing in non-European societies not controlled by the Soviets, where black bags of cash or small mercenary military forces sufficed to seize power. Hence, the ten months from August 1953 to June 1954 that shook Wisner's world with self-congratulation -- and American foreign policy with fateful
In August 1953, in an Iran in which FDR had hoped to apply "an unselfish American policy," the CIA's TP-AJAX (Operation Ajax) bought South Tehran street toughs and assorted notables in order to overthrow the popular, elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh, staving off oil nationalization, securing Persia's petroleum for the five U.S.
major oil companies as well as the old British oil overlords, and returning to the throne as Shah of Shahs (after an ignominious flight from Tehran) the dim, grandiose, but obligingly despotic Mohammed Reza Pahlevi.
The next June, in Guatemala, the CIA launched PB-SUCCESS, dragging a drunken right-wing colonel through a cold shower before installing him, temporarily sober, as caudillo to replace another popular, potentially populist regime worrying to U.S. business interests. Each of these operations was based on the flimsy, thoroughly unexamined pretext that the country was in imminent danger of a left-wing -- ipso facto Russian -- takeover; both would be followed by medals proudly pinned on in private White House ceremonies; both would involve fraud and folly not exposed for decades; and both would have mortal consequences in the affected countries and, in the case of Iran, for twenty-first-century America and much of the Middle East as well.
The Tehran bagman for the CIA was Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., Theodore's grandson. The Agency's other men for the Middle East were less patrician but similarly unqualified: Miles Copeland, Jr., a jazz trumpeter from Alabama with a few college hours in music at Tuscaloosa and no substantive knowledge of the Arab world; James Critchfield, educated at North Dakota Agricultural College in the late 1930s, then a military prison commandant in occupied Germany who befriended one of those useful Nazis; and James Jesus Angleton of Boise, who had followed a mediocre (if racy) career at Yale with OSS intrigues in Italy (in which he made good use of prewar family ties to the Mafia). The later-notorious Angleton was an extreme case, but not an atypical one. He combined a whiskey-drenched anti-Soviet mania (which would, in the 1970s and 80s, develop into genuine paranoia) with some bureaucratic agility, but no palpable expertise in Middle Eastern affairs -- all of which, of course, fitted him perfectly to direct the CIA's intimate ties with the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad.
"They somehow inherited British attitudes towards the colored races of the world," reporter Thomas Powers, a chronicler of the CIA, wrote gingerly. Somehow. The trumpeter, Ag school graduate, manic drunk, and the oblivious, expedient men above and below them simply knew no better.
The legacies of all this would be epic. The brutal military and corporate-mafia repression installed in Guatemala foreshadowed Chile after the 1973 U.S.-backed coup and murder of socialist president Salvador Allende by General Augusto Pinochet, as it would Central America's death-squad agonies in the Reagan 1980s. Even quieter victories by CIA-cosseted regimes in the Philippines and the Congo would soon lead to plundering, bloody dictatorships.
Nowhere, however, was the toll of covert intervention higher than in the Middle East and South Asia:
In Iraq, a CIA-supported corrupt monarchy, inherited from the British, stifled democratic stirrings in the 1950s; then, CIA-instigated Ba'ath Party coups in 1963, and again in 1968, killed reformers and reforms (along with any hopes of sectarian equity), and led to Saddam Hussein's tribal-clan despotism.
In Iran, the Shah's CIA-allied and -tutored torture regime centering on his SAVAK secret police destroyed any real possibility of a democratic counterforce to the Ayatollah's ensuing clerical tyranny bred by the Shah's blundering, martyring repression.
In Syria, CIA-bankrolled, opéra bouffe juntas dating to the 1950s begat the dictatorship of Hafez al-Assad.
In Lebanon, CIA collusion with Israel helped prop up the privileged rule of the Maronite Christian minority from the late 1940s through the civil-war torn 1970s and 80s, while the hostility of the long-oppressed Shia majority eventually led to Hizbullah.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, from the 1950s on, incessant CIA Cold War machinations in the Hindu Kush, and patronage of Pakistani military dictatorships, would set the stage for the calamities of the Afghan anti-Soviet War, the civil war that followed, the rise of the Taliban with its safe haven for al-Qaeda, and so of our post-9/11 world of terror and war.
Even in the obscure Horn of Africa, there were CIA payoffs to Somali politicians and warlords in the 1960s -- $20,000-a-year was the going rate for prime ministers. The bribes went alongside generous backing for the venal, autocratic regime of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie across the border. (This was ransom for a U.S. electronic spy station in Ethiopian-occupied Eritrea.) CIA-chauffeured Suburbans whisked His Imperial Majesty to and from the recreational hangings of democracy or ethnic-rights dissidents in the expansive central square of his capital, Addis Ababa -- all of which only sped the region's long descent into apocalyptic famine and war.
No flashpoint of the early twenty-first-century from the Mediterranean to the Java Sea would be without a half-century-plus legacy of covert Washington interventions. These were instrumental in birthing, or maintaining, tyrannical regimes that almost invariably bred, in opposition, an anti-U.S. atavism, while ruthlessly extinguishing
democratic alternatives. The United States and its prime intelligence agency did not, of course, single-handedly create the incendiary world of 9/11. But Washington wantonly fostered so much that was contrary even to the most cold-eyed version of its own self-interest that what Robert Gates termed the "splendid" American triumph over the USSR in the Cold War would also
prove one of the great Pyrrhic victories in the annals of world politics.
Historians arguing over that half-century of covert actions tended to discover a "rogue" CIA trampling American ideals or else a much-maligned agency only "following orders." In the twisting internal politics of Washington, it was largely a distinction without meaning.
Deniability-minded postwar presidents were surely prone to Henry II's demure order -- "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?" -- to his zealous knights to hack to death Archbishop Thomas Beckett in the sanctity of the cathedral. But to the Oval Office, as Henry's court, evidence of meddling came up the chain of command, with willing knights always in waiting. No regime or ruler "changed" by Washington since 1947 fell solely because of presidential animus.
Death sentences on men and regimes -- with multitudes regularly destroyed in the ensuing maelstroms -- were pronounced by key presidential advisors or came in the form of institutional verdicts from the collective wisdom of the CIA, National Security Council, Pentagon, State Department, or some combination of all four. Presidential orders were usually prompted, or recommended, by successive small inter-agency groups made up of senior men and discreetly labeled with the number of a birthing presidential directive or some other suitably bloodless bureaucratic designation -- 303, Forty, the Special Coordination Committee.
Not that the CIA was not manipulative, did not harbor an occupational contempt for the awkward hindrance of democratic politics at home (or abroad), was not driven by organizational as well as personal demons, or played by virtuoso exiles or alien spy agencies pursuing their own ends.
For Frank Wisner, all the covert glory began to fade in the historic fall of 1956. Flouting a more cautious, but typically unenforced Eisenhower policy of restraint toward Eastern Europe, his Operation RED SOX/RED CAP during the Hungarian revolt against Soviet puppet rule (and the coincidental Suez crisis in which Britain, France and Israel
invaded Abdel Nasser's Egypt after he nationalized the Suez Canal, all to the CIA's surprise) was a classic of its kind. Broadcasts inciting the Hungarians to rise up, an émigré army manqué, and the usual balloons fatally linked the rebels to the U.S., hardening Moscow all the more in its decision to crush the uprising as a "counter-revolution" and an act of Cold War rollback -- both of which Wisner, if not Washington, fully intended.
Watching from his mission on the Danube was a 42-year-old Russian ambassador, future KGB chief, and eventual Kremlin leader, Yuri Andropov, who would take it all in -- and eventually into the Politburo, where, 23 years later, his too-often-borne-out fear of American machinations would trigger Russia's catastrophic invasion of Afghanistan, the seminal event of our post-9/11 nightmare.
Wisner soon sank into dementia, a condition he shared with a telling number of others in early Cold War high-society, including the Washington Post's Graham, Secretary of Defense Forrestal (who threw himself out of the window of the hospital where he was committed), and, not least, Angleton, who turned his madness in a burst of
rampant destruction on his own agency as well as the rest of the government in a crazed search for a Soviet "super mole." Wisner was eased from the CIA in 1958, his files reviewed and promptly burned as the "ramblings of a madman." There would be discreet clinics and quiet treatment for mania, if little care for the larger pathology he and his fellow psychotics embodied.
Late in October 1965, as Bob Gates began graduate school at
a hero's burial at
Students like Bob Gates were to be something of a remedy for the CIA's first generation of men, so uneducated about a world they manipulated with such careless and brutal abandon. In widening recruitment efforts, and requiring a gamut of substantive and psychological tests (even a psychiatric interview for its new officers), the
CIA seemed to acknowledge that its ranks lacked a certain professionalism -- in terms of diploma knowledge of the world as well as certifiable sanity.
By 1965, the Agency was also responding to a national mobilization of education as a Cold War weapon. This had been underway for years in the aftershock of the spectacular 1957 launch of the Soviet Sputnik, the orbiting little satellite neither the CIA, nor the American public had expected from their caricature Russians. Worse yet, it sat atop a prototype intercontinental ballistic missile. Much of Gates' career would be shaped by that sobering event -- a Commie rocket that could reach
Sputnik's launch began a craze in the
recruiters and Bob Gates was their ideal target. It all seemed to promise a new worldliness -- for
like a lethal gene was that old Baltic Syndrome, with its reactionary animus and blindfolds, in which
No independent American expertise on the Soviets would magically appear, despite the post-Sputnik infusions of money. "
Other reputed centers of area studies -- most prominently
(with language prepping beforehand at
Money now gushed into "area specialization," not just in Soviet affairs, but in Asia, Africa, and the
A World of "Slopes" and "Towel Heads"
In practice, none of this had much effect on root prejudice. An American Army in
an ally) its commanders as well as the ranks generally referred to as "gooks," "dinks," and "slopes," and whose politics it never grasped. It would be much the same three decades later, when U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanded in part by erstwhile junior officers from the Vietnam War, were effectively defeated by two of history's most momentous, if seemingly ragtag, insurgencies made up of "hajis," "sand niggers," and "towel heads" of similarly baffling mind and motivation.
As usual, bigotry ran bottom to top, civilian no less than military. In the Vietnam-era White House, President Nixon commonly deplored "jigs" and "Jew boys," while Harvard's Kissinger (with a young aide of like mentality named John Negroponte) planned savage carpet bombings of North Vietnam on the premise, as Kissinger put it, that "I can't believe a fourth-rate power doesn't have a breaking point." It was typical of the quaint anthropology of the famous diplomat and many of his staff, including future secretaries of state Alexander Haig and Larry Eagleburger. (Told during the Nigerian Civil War that Biafra's Ibos tended to appear more Negroid than northern Nigerians, Kissinger blurted out in unguarded surprise, "You always said Ibos were so gifted and accomplished. How could they be more Negroid?")
Yet there was something more insidious than crude Eurocentric racism at work. Imbibed by a new generation of bureaucrats and analysts with winning-hearts-and-minds, career-making fervor was another kind of bigotry dressed in the clothes of scholarly authority and of knowledge in service to power. It took an eminent literary critic and
expatriate from one of the most abused "areas" of the world to expose it.
A revolutionary book when it appeared in the late 1970s, Orientalism by Palestinian Edward Said revealed the intellectual hollowness of the predominant Western view of the Arab world (and, by implication, of much of the rest of the globe as well). Professor Said's naked emperor proved to be the views of two centuries of Western academics and novelists, clerks and clerics, soldiers and tourists, diplomats and dilettantes that created a collective, stereotypical, paradoxical Muslim Orient -- stagnant yet ever-roiling; childlike yet cunning; femininely weak yet no less macho-menacing for that; indolent but agitated; always prone to feudal despotism, though available for capitalist liberation; congenitally terrorist and genocidal by nature; presumptively inferior; endlessly devious; and, above all, relentlessly alien. Said's Orient of Western mythology was what one author aptly called "the quintessential ‘Other.'"
"They're our boys bought and paid for, but you always gotta remember that these people can't be trusted," said Archie Roosevelt, Kermit's cousin and a CIA deputy for the
called, in the privacy of inter-agency meetings, the "rug merchants."
Long embedded in American prejudice -- from Holy Land travelogues to pulp novels and action movies, coin of the realm from foreign affairs professionals to Capitol Hill plebeians -- no preconception, not even the anti-Soviet mania, shaped
more than the now-subtle, now-brazen stereotypes of the Arab world. (This was, of course, intimately related to an unquestioning affinity for
As in academia or the media, government had its exceptions to Orientalism's sway -- analysts, spies, or diplomats of wider perception. There is, however, no evidence that they carried a single significant day in the last 60 years in a
Authentic intelligence was absent when needed most, which was most of the time, and knowledge scant in any guise. CIA veterans recall that there were rarely more than three to five officers ranked as Arabic-fluent "Arabists" on Agency desks at any time prior to 1991. Though there might have been more Arabists in the field, even fewer there focused on Arab politics as distinct from the CIA's primary target worldwide: Soviet missions and their relations with host regimes. In the Islamic world as elsewhere, unrest was seen far less as legitimate grievance emerging from local or regional situations than yet more evidence of Kremlin machinations. Politics in the Arab world, as in the
The colonial sociology of knowledge of the specialists, when placed alongside the cultural illiteracy of senior bureaucrats, policy-makers, and politicians -- to say nothing of a blanketing pro-Israeli bias -- produced a half-century of American patronage of repressive regimes in North Africa and the
As 9/11 and the years to follow made plain, what was missed was momentous. Gathering largely beyond
From the 1950s on, in a fetish of "progress" and as a Cold War counter to the Russians,
This abdication of responsibility for their own people inevitably left ever-growing excluded populations to the socio-economic, as well as sectarian religious, rescue of the fundamentalists. Their resulting appeal -- to
Meanwhile, intelligence remained essentially blind to defining events. The mullahs' 1978-79 revolution in
before the willfully unseeing eyes of a horde of CIA operatives on the long-rotting ruins of the Shah's regime. Afghan Islamic atavists rose in the 1980s, thanks to the CIA and its colleagues in Pakistani intelligence, over the corpses of any democratic alternative, and then, once the Soviets were defeated, their country was blithely abandoned to congenital chaos. Finally,
there was the self-betrayal of an
This was the world Bob Gates would soon face -- and proceed to help make -- as the CIA recruited him at
"On a Lark"
In the spring of 1966 -- "on a lark," as he put it, "for a free trip to
to CIA headquarters at
That summer, before reporting for duty, he chaperoned a
Part of his posting in his uneventful Air Force tour involved briefing nuclear missile crews on intelligence data at the Oscar-1 ICBM site at Whiteman Air Force Base in the
countryside, 65 miles southeast of
"This was still Curtis LeMay's Strategic Air Command," Gates wrote in his memoir, referring to the famed Air Force general who had burned
instead of cities. "I want to kill some fucking Russians," the commander told Gates, "not dig up dirt."
Gates entered the CIA's intelligence directorate as a Soviet affairs analyst on August 19, 1968, the day before the Russians ordered Warsaw Pact forces to roll into
exiles with limited, soon-routed CIA air cover -- had been the Agency's first visible setback, though that hardly caused its policy masters and covert-action operators to fall into some chastened lull.
Even as the quixotic Cuban exile invasion force was marched to prison, plots to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro continued apace (under the vengeful eye of Attorney General Bobby Kennedy), using some of the Agency's most thuggish hires. Meanwhile, covert action was incessant elsewhere. Stations in
illness," a CIA officer quipped to a Senate committee, "before a firing squad in
There were similar Agency "successes" in
the military massacred democratic leftists, as well as known communists, by the hundreds of thousands to fix the iron tyranny of the Suharto regime. The 1967 Colonels' Coup in
but another extinction of a boisterous democracy by
By the latter 1960s, like the Pentagon, the Agency was also feeding handsomely off the Vietnam War, conducting assassinations by the thousands in the soon-to-be-notorious Phoenix Program, setting up provincial torture centers through South Vietnam including the infamous "tiger cages," savage precursors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo -- and, not least, creating drug-running mercenary armies, supplied by the Agency's own Air America airline, operating out of its busy regional hub in warlord-ruled Laos. The CIA also colluded with the Cambodian generals who would overthrow neutralist King
Sihanouk in 1970, mindless patronage that led ineluctably to Cambodia's major embroilment in the Vietnam War, the rise and triumph of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, and the post-war genocide of "the killing fields." All of this traced to decisions made through the customary mix of prodding advisors, Cold War institutional momentum, and presidential sanction, as well as at least
implicit, sometimes explicit, approval by Congressional barons. Altogether, this summed up the bipartisan complicity that was -- and remains --
As usual, the scurrying operators almost invariably outran any intelligence analysis offered. Most of the time, in most places in the world, such "intelligence," despite the Agency's name, was a purely secondary matter. True, Agency analysts, reporting on
light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel optimism infecting the officer corps, earning the undying enmity of Pentagon intelligence and of defeat-sullen military and civilian hawks. But, like other Americans in policy-making or influential positions, CIA analysts proved largely blind to the indomitable nationalism that lay at the heart of the war. Save for one glimpse of the looming disaster
that never made it to the necessary senior levels, they failed to warn of the nationwide Tet Offensive in April 1968 and then put the kind of devoted effort that hadn't gone into intelligence-gathering into covering up their own negligence and incompetence. All in all, CIA intelligence on
CIA estimates elsewhere in the world, particularly in the Middle East after the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, were no less suspect in the White House and the Pentagon -- except for reports passed on from CIA client regimes or kindred spy agencies. This was especially true of
The continuing priority given to analysts of the
Cuban Missile Crisis. ("We will honor this agreement," a Russian envoy
told his American counterpart in 1962. He was speaking of the deal President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had forged, as
warheads poised along the borders of the
Given the millions of dollars pouring into intelligence, some of the gaps were chilling. As the new, young analyst from
The CIA Bob Gates joined was still largely what it had been over its first two decades -- a blunt instrument of covert intervention, now mostly in non-European politics -- and a stagnant fund of intelligence. The Baltic Syndrome had morphed into a global variation of the same half-blind and bigoted perspective. The Agency was trapped in the remarkably narrow confines that defined imperial, yet intellectually provincial, Washington. During Gates' opportunistic rise and sway over the next quarter century, it would remain, at horrendous cost, much the same.
Office Politics Triumphant
From 1968 to 1974, Gates rose steadily through the ranks of
area or issue.
His work in these years also focused to
some extent on
Those years represented a brief interval when the CIA's analysts had rare near-parity with their covert-action brethren. Beyond meeting the usual suborning payrolls -- from parliaments to palaces,
cabinets to high commands worldwide -- covert operations were relatively quiescent except in
In 1969, at the behest of the Shah of Iran, and in collusion with
blithely walked away from the Kurds. This betrayal and the resultant massacre of the Kurdish rebels came promptly when the Shah decided to strike a deal in 1975 with the Iraqis, signed by the already powerful Ba'athist Vice President Saddam Hussein. ("Covert action should not be confused with missionary work," then-Secretary of State Kissinger instructed a Senate committee questioning the Kurdish sell-out.)
Then, of course, there were the Agency's murderous Chilean intrigues that eventually triggered the 1973 coup, blotting out the elected presidency and left-center coalition of Salvador Allende -- with the concentration camps and torture chambers of General Augusto Pinochet's reactionary junta to follow. Again, a Kissinger quip would be emblematic, in this case his Latin variant on Orientalism. "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people," he admonished his colleagues on the Forty Committee, the secret group approving the covert action.)
For the most part, however, the early 1970s were the zenith years of Nixon-Kissinger great-power diplomacy -- the China opening, a Moscow Summit and Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), the grim Christmas bombing of Hanoi, and Kissinger's Nobel-Prize-winning but doomed 1973 Vietnam settlement, as well as his celebrated Middle East shuttle diplomacy after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. These were the feats of a haunted president who distrusted the CIA still more than the rest of a despised bureaucracy, even as he unleashed it ruthlessly on Chile, and of a gifted, tireless, megalomaniacal National Security Advisor and Secretary of State alternately co-opting and excluding the Agency in his incessant war to maintain
his own monopoly of power over the bureaucracy. By 1974, of course, Nixon was mortally stricken by Watergate, and Kissinger's dominance was hemorrhaging away.
Looking back on this crucial take-off moment in Gates' career, media pundits vacantly ascribed it to merit. "The brightest Soviet analyst in the shop," Washington Post columnist David Ignatius typically wrote. Insiders knew better. "He wasn't." That was what his CIA superior Ray McGovern said gently, echoing the feelings of his colleagues that "something other than expertise" made for Gates' "meteoric" climb.
It was, in fact, a triumph of office politics, not substance. "Gates' rise did not come from knowing more about the Soviets.... than anyone else," CIA chronicler Thomas Powers concluded. "He was young, well scrubbed, well spoken, bright, hard-working, reliable, loyal, discreet, and a bit of a hard-ass when it came to the Russians." But his limits, too, were evident. Wrote British historian Fred Halliday: "He would not have been out of place as a small town bank manager: unfazed by questions, reticent in judgment, sure of his ground, but without either incisiveness or (it seemed) the awareness that international experience brings." He had, Halliday concluded, "no trace [of]. anyy first-hand experience of foreign cultures or countries." He was "a man of the office, the organization." It was the candid portrait of a consummate insider as insular as the policy and politics he served.
Gates, the Soviet "specialist" and, in many ways, penultimate Cold Warrior, would not even see Moscow until May 1989, more than two decades after entering the CIA as an expert on the USSR and after 15 years in which, to one degree or another, he joined in nearly all Washington's most consequential judgments about Russia. Nor, despite his asserted expertise in the Middle East, would Gates have personal experience with nations he dealt with fatefully from 1974 to 1993 -- most notably Afghanistan and Iraq. He would not tour either until 2006-7, and then only for a few, heavily guarded days and in the most limited of ways.
As with his Baltic predecessors, however, his specialties "from afar" ushered him into history. Early in 1974, not yet thirty-one and scarcely six years in the ranks, he was chosen from among a number of CIA analysts, some with greater seniority, for a key assignment to the National Security Council staff. It would be the beginning of nearly nine years spent at the White House in pivotal roles under three presidents and the administrations of both parties.
Despite Kissinger's preeminence as National Security Advisor, the NSC staff in 1974 had not yet grown engorged or been transformed into the shadow foreign ministry it would soon become. It was still made up mostly of non-political "professionals," not partisans but career officers "detailed" to it, usually for two-year periods, from the State Department, the CIA or, less often, the Pentagon. As a system, the detailing process worked somewhat like traditional White House political patronage, albeit it was the politics of the bureaucracy that was at stake in what was considered a plum career assignment. In those days, you were still detailed to the NSC with, at worst, only a perfunctory ideological screening by the National Security Advisor and his personal staff.
Gates filled a staff slot that had traditionally been left for the CIA: analyst, as well as policy and intelligence liaison, for
The post had belonged to William Hyland, a wry, scholarly, self-effacing, relatively undogmatic CIA veteran analyst, then in his mid-forties, who had readily deferred to Kissinger's realpolitik eagerness to negotiate with
"At the switch," Hyland lightly called his NSC role. Now, Gates was to be at that "switch" for the next five-and-a-half years -- through Kissinger's dual tenure as both National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under Gerald Ford from mid-1974 until late 1975; then under ex-Kissinger deputy and NSC successor Air Force General
Brent Scowcroft during Ford's last year in office. Though the Democrat Jimmy Carter took the presidency in 1976, Gates stayed on from 1977 through 1979 under Carter's NSC advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. For part of that interval, he was Brzezinski's personal assistant -- with even greater scope and authority. The results of that extended tenure under Ford and Carter, across a fateful
period from the mid- to late-1970s, would prove quite different from those of the Hyland years.
Shaping talking points, speeches, intelligence, and policy memos for three national security advisors and two presidents, deeply involved in the NSC staff's privileged interplay with the bureaucracy and Congress, with significant control over who had access to what information at the pinnacle of government, Gates, like few career officials --
certainly no bureaucrat of his provenance in recent memory -- would have sustained influence over a consequential period of foreign policy.
He began at the
The Ford presidency that launched all three was a hardly noticed turning point in American politics, the crucible upon which a slow-motion reactionary coup would be mounted that would reshape the nation's -- and the world's -- future. In those years, Rumsfeld and Cheneybecame public figures, while Gates, from his potent inner perch at the NSC, remained a shadowy but ever more powerful presence.
By the summer of 1974, Watergate-obsessed
members called NIEs "National Intelligence Equivocations" -- his own formulation of what he termed "a much more aggressive Soviet Union."
Distributed across senior levels of the bureaucracy, passed on (via expected leak) to key foreign affairs figures on Capitol Hill, the document was welcome fodder for hard-liners -- feeding, as it did, predictable anxieties well-lodged in government and politics. "It would sure as hell scare you," the redoubtable Republican conservative Barry Goldwater told a Democratic Senate colleague who had not seen the NIE, "It sure scares the hell out of me."
In fact, at that 1973 high tide of Nixon-Kissinger détente with the Soviets,
Nixon's visit to
Pentagon weapons sales, shepherded through by some 500 ranking American officers. Grandiose trade deals would follow, along with offers to
assassinations. Meanwhile, a swarm of more than 50,000 American officials, contractors, and on-the-make expatriates would descend on the country, constructing Mafia-model casinos on the Caspian Sea and, elsewhere, the usual faux-American suburban compounds, walled islands outside Iranian cities like Isfahan. None of it could the momentarily oil profits-flush Shah long afford, politically or economically.
The orgy went typically ignored by the American media -- never so much as a simple headline in those years -- and by a
Within weeks, of Nixon's lethal 1972 bounty for
In 1972-73, the Russians watched all this in distress but also in relative impotence and passivity -- a reaction Gates clearly observed at the CIA but carefully did not register in his Estimate.
Not that these 1972 events had no eventual impact in
Moscow worried about a full-scale U.S. invasion of Iran, or at least the destabilizing effects of a dramatic raid to free the American embassy hostages seized by enraged Iranian students in October 1979 (after the hated Shah and his entourage were given refuge in the U.S.). The Russian suspicions were sound. Despite President Carter's express assurances to the Kremlin to the
contrary, the Pentagon did begin planning an invasion almost immediately following the embassy takeover and, not long after -- when ambitions narrowed with some appreciation of the bloodbath an invasion would mean -- turned to the ill-fated hostage rescue of April 1980. That, of course, ended in a debacle of colliding helicopters at a remote Iranian desert staging area, with nary a
hostage in sight.
Throughout 1979, however, the Russians were even more afraid that the
(typically Afghan) Soviet client regime in
1979 Soviet invasion of
meant to install a reliable puppet who would never pull "a Sadat."
Counterrevolution on the
In 1973, however, Gates' NIE, like so much of his "intelligence" work to come, reflected more what was happening in
than in the world at large. That Estimate, in fact, caught something of the tangled ancestry of twenty-first century neocon
From 1969 on, Nixon and Kissinger had faced a seething, increasingly bitter rebellion against the kind of equilibrium they sought with
not just in the strategic-arms race, but in political relations in general. Their policy was encapsulated in the traditional diplomatic term "détente." Incessant battles took place with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), whose cherished weapons systems and ideological phobia made them, like the Soviet military, the natural enemies of the process.
The ongoing struggle was aptly symbolized by the sordid 1970-71 "Admirals' spy ring." The JCS Chairman actually had a Navy yeoman casing Kissinger's office, and even rifling his waste bags, in an effort to find out what the close-to-the-vest National Security Advisor (and his equally scheming President) might be up to.
In a regime of hoarded secrets and power, where Kissinger gladly agreed to the wire-tapping of his own aides, and where almost no one trusted any one else -- one witness simply called it "a sewer" -- it was, in a sense, more of the same. Nonetheless, history has yet to come fully to grips with what that military spying signified. One Nixon aide, recalling for Kissinger biographer Walter Isaacson his horror on stumbling upon the JCS treachery, "felt as if he were in the movie Seven Days in May," (about an attempted military coup d'état in
Washington). Investigative reporters Bob Gettlin and Len Colodny similarly linked the episode to what they called, in the title of their impressively documented 1991 book, a "silent coup." Humpty-Dumpty Nixon, they believed, had not just tumbled off that wall, thanks to his Watergate weight, but was also given a helpful push by those who wanted to kill détente.
Baltic Syndromes old and new, institutional and military-industrial interests, Congressional politics, not to speak of raging ambitions -- all were part of the emerging struggle within
arms-control agreement -- like ardent backing for
By the early 1970s, as the JCS spying so ominously revealed, Nixon and Kissinger were confronted with anything but ordinary, venal resistance within the bureaucracy. To their unprecedented policy of détente (and its implicit, if unconscious, challenge to the Baltic Syndrome mentality), there arose an unprecedented opposition not only in the
Pentagon but also in the CIA, where some felt Cold War orthodoxy and all it denoted were being threatened as never before.
As Kissinger recounted the experience, he could hardly testify before
It all served foes of the SALT II agreement, aimed at long-run nuclear "parity" between the two superpowers -- what Nixon repeatedly called "a generation of peace" -- which meant likely weapons budget cuts for the Pentagon as well as the Soviet military.
As Watergate neared its climax, the inner revolt rumbled more audibly. On the eve of the June 1974 Moscow Summit, Nixon's forlorn final bow, Truman-era cold warrior Paul Nitze abruptly resigned from
the SALT delegation. Having backed Nixon and readily taken his job offers, Nitze now blasted the tottering president for "dangerous trends" and rejoined the hard-liners. (In 1969, Nitze had worked with Perle and another young zealot, Paul Wolfowitz, to lobby for the Anti-Ballistic Missile, a turkey of a weapons system, junked as unworkable only to revive in recalibrated form on post-1980 R&D budget appropriations and then rise from the coffin as a full-fledged anti-missile system under George W. Bush.)
By the fall of 1974, with Nixon gone, rebellion burst into the open. Amid a cacophony of leaks, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency publicly deplored SALT II -- a glaring breach with the new Ford administration, all the more remarkable because the already beleaguered new president was still pledging to pursue the treaty at a
Vladivostok summit that November. Meanwhile, as never before, corporate money poured into what had, until then, been a group of marginal right-wing think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and into the campaign coffers of right-wing Republican candidates, chiefly the outgoing California governor, Ronald Reagan, whose handlers in the race to unseat Ford in 1976
urged him, above all, to attack détente as "weakening" national security.
As usual, given Washington's ceaseless traffic in leaks, there is no hard evidence about whether Gates actually leaked into this furor, though his animus in regards to Nixon's Soviet policy was unmistakable and the provenance of many of the leaked documents is damning. Clearly, however, in his first year on the NSC staff he waged a careful
rear-guard action against what was to become known as the Helsinki Accords. Kissinger's diplomacy nonetheless brought the Accords to fruition in July 1975. They offered official recognition of post-World War II Soviet Bloc boundaries in Europe, but within a new international context of respect for, and unprecedented monitoring of, human rights and political dissidence in the
opened the way for the rise of internal opposition movements like
Gates typically opposed
the Kremlin and its satellites could and would ignore.
By the mid-1990s, he had accepted, though flippantly, his misreading of the evolution of a system he had supposedly pondered most of his adult life. In his memoirs, he wrote: "The Soviets desperately wanted [
He remained intent on the old evil. In Ford's retinue for a presidential visit to Bucharest in 1975, he blamed the Romanian regime's intelligence service for stealing his passport, and, in a rare lapse, flipped off the airport crowd as he left. "In a regrettable but immensely satisfying display of pique and immaturity, I bade farewell to
Kissinger soon got the same unmistakable salute from Gates' allies in
1976 would offer the funeral procession that signaled the arrival of a new right-wing order and, with it, Gates' further rise. That March, as part of Ford's defensive response to the Reagan assault,
the president brought onto the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (FIAB), a traditionally toothless CIA oversight body, the man who would be the most important patron in Gates' career, a slightly seedy and indefatigably reactionary, Russophobic Long Island lawyer named William Casey.
It was an extraordinarily vulnerable political moment for the CIA, reeling from more than a dozen reports by Watergate-inspired Congressional committees. They had compiled a staggering (if very partial) list of the Agency's lawless abuses: multiple covert interventions, betrayals of clients, assassinations (involving bizarre, often
schoolboy-level toxin and dart technologies), and domestic spying as well as mail opening. The revelations prompted the creation of Select Committees in both the House and Senate to oversee covert action, and extracted a Ford presidential order (subsequently renewed by President Reagan) prohibiting CIA assassinations -- "reforms" that would turn out to be far less than expected in both cases.
For William Casey and other members of what was already probably the most hard-line FIAB in history, the agenda was hardly to rein in the Agency's mandate for covert action, which they thought too limited, but rather to escalate the attack on arms control and détente. Supported by Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs, Casey led the Board in pressuring Ford to promulgate a "Team B," a group of outside "critics" who would critique and counter the CIA's assessment of Soviet strength and intentions.
Given Kissinger's still considerable personal prestige, the weakened CIA was obviously an easier entry point for Casey and his cohorts in the assault on détente. But there was grim irony in the charge underlying the formation of Team B -- that the Agency had somehow been "soft" on the Russians or prone to underestimate Soviet strength. Though Gates' 1973 NIE pushed conclusions well beyond the evidence, even the usual CIA assessments, including its analysis of Soviet strategic forces for the SALT talks (in which Gates participated), had not differed significantly from the Pentagon's hawkish ones.
If anything, as it joined the wider bureaucratic revolt against SALT II, the Agency regularly overestimated overall Soviet strength and misread the burden of the arms race on the Soviet economy. Even leaked to Capitol Hill, however, the CIA's cautions and qualifications did not lend themselves quite as readily to demagogic appeal as the
counterrevolution now sought.
"Let her fly!! -- OK, G.B." was the flourish with which the new Director, George H.W. Bush, signed off on Team B, though later, when the episode became notorious, he would admit to an aide,
"It wasn't my doing." Team B's right-wingers, including Paul Wolfowitz, were chaired, aptly enough, by Harvard's Richard Pipes. He had been handpicked by Richard Perle via Senator Jackson and came, like most of the others, with "little command of scientific [strategic weapons] matters," as Gary Wills put it. The group would form what even hard-lineCIA analyst Ray Cline called "a kangaroo court of outside critics all picked from one point of view."
Predictably, their "findings" were a simplistic fantasy: The Soviet Union was intent on starting World War III and an American nuclear "window of vulnerability" made such a Russian attack plausible. This scenario required, of course, an inconceivably perfect Soviet first strike as well as actions and reactions precise beyond any war-planner's wildest dreams.
Once the Reagan regime -- filling posts with Team B members -- took office in 1981, the "window of vulnerability" would mercifully disappear, just as had the budget-plumping 1940s "bomber gap" and the 1950s "missile gap" (both authored, in part, by Paul Nitze). In 1976, however, Team B opened the window
wide. News of it, duly leaked by Rumsfeld and others, was imbibed by the press, pundits, and Congress with the usual shallowness, inciting a public mood that Wills termed "hysteria about the enemy as a patriotic duty." (Much the same mood would reappear with the neoconservatives post-9/11, making
It was all part of an orchestrated rightward turn that Gates now took up and discreetly steered from his slot at the NSC. Some of his former colleagues thought the Team B episode a rebuke of him. "It was Gates v. Gates," one of them said, noting that some of what Team B was countering as "inaccurate" CIA analysis had, in fact, been Gates' own work over the previous five years.
By several accounts, though, there had been an underlying consistency to his hard-line perspective on the Soviets, even if, in the CIA years, his views had sometimes been muted or passed over when he was not yet powerful enough to impose his bias. He would never, in any case, dispute the fabrications of Team B and, at the time, he relished them. "A starker appreciation," he called a 1976 Team-B-influenced National Intelligence Estimate on the Soviets, which reflected the tougher tone.
Meanwhile, as so often since 1917, Soviet reality and
even surpass the Americans -- at a real cost to its economy that was, and would continue to be, twice what the CIA estimated -- the Soviet strategic system remained plagued by chronic waste, technical gaps, a lethal lag in computerization, and, not least, sheer incompetence, bureaucratic torpor, insidious politics, and pervasive corruption.
All of this, the CIA and other departments of government would have been quick to point out, if the topic had not been Soviet weaponry. After all, the inefficiencies and failures of the Soviet system were legendary (and our military-industrial complex a virtual parody of it). But as so often in American politics and foreign policy, reality was not the issue.
With Gerald Ford's defeat by Jimmy Carter in 1976 and the arrival of Zbigniew Brzezinski as national security advisor, Gates, in part because of his reputation as a "hard-ass" on Soviet issues, would be given the extraordinary opportunity to hold over to the new staff, where he would find his views even more influential.
Just ahead lay the beginning of a trillion-dollar weapons-spending orgy. Opening the way for it would be the death of arms control and the extinction of détente. The superpower rivalry would now play out in ever more exotic settings -- from the mosques of
new blooding, too, in the Middle East, including CIA car bombs in
Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 8, 1985, an Islamic Sabbath -- In Bir El-Abed, an impoverished, crowded Shiite quarter in the southern reaches of the Lebanese capital, Muhammad Husain Fadlallah stops on the street to speak to an elderly woman; and so, the revered 51 year-old cleric, delayed momentarily, will not be home at the usual time when a car bomb explodes at his apartment doorstep with a force felt miles away in the Chouf Mountains and well out in the Mediterranean.
"Even by local standards," reported the New York Times from car-bomb and shell-shocked
families were still digging the bodies of loved ones out of the rubble. It read: "Made in the
The sign was more apt than even its furious makers knew. The terrorist strike on Bir El-Abed was a classic product of American covert policy. Behind the bombing lay a convoluted secret history and, beyond that, a longer legacy of power wantonly uninformed by "intelligence."
Agreeing, as usual, with the proposals of CIA Director William Casey, President Ronald Reagan sanctioned the Bir attack to avenge a devastating truck-bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks at the Beirut Airport in October 1983 -- itself a bloody reprisal for earlier American acts of intervention and diplomatic betrayal in Lebanon's civil war that had cost hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian lives. The barracks attack slaughtered 241 Marines, part of an international peacekeeping force sent to
After its own operatives had repeatedly failed to arrange Casey's car-bombing, the CIA "farmed out" the operation to agents of its longtime Lebanese client, the Phalange, a Maronite Christian, anti-Islamic party, avowedly built on the Italian fascist model. The CIA targeted Fadlallah, in particular, because of
his reputation for fiery sermons in favor of social justice and national independence -- and because allied spy agencies -- Israel's Mossad, Saudi Arabia's GID, and Phalangist informers -- claimed he led a militant Shiite group that bore responsibility for the attack on the Marines.
While a spiritual mentor to many, including militants, in
CIA officials also knew that all three "friendlies" -- the Israelis, Saudis, and Phalangists -- frequently tried to manipulate
for example, that Israeli intelligence had learned in advance of the Marine barracks plot, yet raised no alarms, calculating that such an attack might spur anti-Arab sentiment in the U.S -- or even drive the Marines out of
In fact, the Bir bombing rested on information known in the CIA to be false, or, at best, highly suspect. As a result, it was one of the most heedless and consequential atrocities in the history of CIA covert actions -- no small distinction. The pivotal figures in that decision, the men who made all the difference, included the then-still-obscure CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence and self-styled
expert, Robert Gates.
As documents, testimony, and other revelations would later make clear, the Bir plot was typical of Reagan era covert actions, which would include: Illegal aid to drug-running Contras (at war with the left-leaning Sandinista government of Nicaragua); contraband arms sent to both Iraq and Iran (at war with each
other); tens of millions of dollars to the anti-Soviet Catholic Church in Poland, but also to nun- and priest-murdering death squads in El Salvador; and, most fateful of all, hundreds of millions to Islamic fanatics in Afghanistan. In the Reagan administration's secret wars -- from
officials, to say nothing of the requisite Congressional committees, but when the CIA director and the president were alone.
There they would be, usually in the Oval Office: Hard-line zealot and Catholic dogmatist Bill Casey, mumbling his plan (as he typically did), notoriously careless with facts, ever ready for the bloodiest of covert actions, and by far the most powerful CIA chief in history. With him, Ronald Reagan, an ever genial man
whose archetypal simplicity and decency endeared him to voters, but who was known by his closest advisors to be nearly oblivious to the details of policy, and even hard of hearing in one ear. "Didn't understand a word he said," Reagan remarked with a shrug after a typical briefing with the mumbling Casey. Yet, in almost every instance, the President characteristically
agreed -- or seemed to hear and agree -- on whatever covert action his former campaign manager was hatching.
For the Agency's director, it meant awesome, unprecedented, power. The only check on him lay with his three deputies, among the precious few who learned of his schemes before Reagan would nod approval. In the Bir plot, two of those men were hardly prone to oppose the director. Principal Deputy John McMahon and
Deputy for Operations Clair George were careerists from the CIA's covert side. Along with most of their underlings, they knew little of the increasingly complex religio-political currents and countercurrents roiling the
In general, they tended to welcome covert action paid for and carried out by allies. Such operations appeared to involve little risk to the CIA, or their reputations, but offered the possibility for easy credit. Not least, they owed their powerful jobs to the Director, whose right-wing zeal and extraordinary sway
they relished. "Inspired by Casey's enthusiasm for high-rolling covert action," Washington Post reporter Steve Coll wrote, "they loved his energy and clout."
Typically, there was, then, but one chance to head off the coming Bir atrocity. The Agency's Directorate of Intelligence, under Bob Gates' direction since 1982, was the repository for the sort of analysis that was supposed to inform any covert-action or foreign-policy decision. If Operations was the CIA's muscle and guile, Intelligence was meant to be its eyesight, hearing, nerves, brain, its sense and sensibility. Casey did not often formally consult the analysts in his operational machinations, but Gates was his closest deputy, privy to every covert action, and commonly went beyond his nominal role as head of "analysis" in directly recommending policies and actions or ordering and shaping intelligence studies to support whatever policy Casey wanted.
In the winter of 1984-1985, the Middle Eastern specialists of Gates' directorate were never officially informed of the Bir bombing plan. They could, however, make out its silhouette from cable traffic, requested briefings, and other bureaucratic jungle drums that beat in even the most closely-held operations. They saw the assassination of Fadlallah taking shape, if not the use of a massive car bomb guaranteed to kill scores in the vicinity.
"In our shop, we knew what Casey would be looking for in revenge for the barracks bombing and what the Israelis and Saudis were pushing," related one analyst who would later become a senior Agency official. "We laid out all the unknowables and caveats and how we were being whipsawed [by allied spy
agencies], and we sent it upstairs for Gates to give to Casey, and we recommended it be bootlegged to the NSC and White House and even to Defense if it came to that."
When there was no sign that Gates had done anything with their warning, two of the analysts confronted the deputy director. "This is terrible," one of them told him.
"We are not here to pick a fight with the boss," Gates answered dismissively. "I'm not particularly concerned about some set-to in
Risking their careers, the analysts tried to warn officials they knew in the Pentagon, bu they got no response. A few weeks later, like any other outsiders, they would read the New York Times account of the Bir explosion. "I was literally sick," one of them remembered, "the rest of the day."
the explosion, 22 year-old Imad Mugniyah would join the emerging Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and, over the next decade, as a shadowy chief of security, direct a series of reprisal attacks against Americans in a bloody chain reaction of terror and counter-terror. Among Fadlallah's admirers, outraged by the bombing and ever after distrustful of the Americans he had once admired, was a round-faced, 25 year-old theology student of already recognized charisma and organizational skills. He would rise to become Hezbollah's leader -- and, after his forces fought the Israeli invasion of
In a sense, the bomb that shattered Bir El-Abed began to be assembled eight years earlier with the arrival in the White House of a grinning, God-fearing Georgian who pledged memorably in his inaugural address: "To be true to ourselves, we must be true to others. We will not behave in foreign places so as to violate our rules and standards here at home, for we know that the trust which our nation earns is essential to our strength."
On election night 1976, the three American television networks closed coverage with the old Democratic victory song, "Happy Days Are Here Again." The words sounded right to many who were banking on a post-Vietnam turn to wisdom in foreign policy from the newly elected Jimmy Carter. For the first time in more
than a decade, American forces were not in, or near, major combat anywhere on the planet.
The concerted right-wing, military-industrial challenge to détente of 1974-1976 had been beaten back. Its Republican champion, Ronald Reagan, had fallen short in his GOP presidential race with Gerald Ford. The Democrat's prototype neoconservative, Washington Senator Henry Jackson, despite a huge corporate and
Israeli lobby war chest, had proved an uninspiring candidate and was eliminated in the primaries. Now, gone from the White House as well was Ford, who in the final year of his presidency had fallen into traditional Cold War mode, and with him two key officials who had eagerly joined the drive to push policy ever-rightward, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and White House Chief of Staff Dick Cheney.
In their place were new men, apparently chastened by
Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and Jimmy Carter in 1976, he had been circumspect while angling for high office.
Brzezinski in any case looked to be outnumbered by the new administration's declared"moderates" -- Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, an establishment elder who had emerged from the Kennedy-Johnson era quagmire-averse, committed to détente, and to a further strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT II); at the
Pentagon, a defense establishment scientist, Harold Brown, who abhorred the thought of foreign military entanglements while he rebuilt Vietnam-shattered department morale; and, at the CIA, a Navy prodigy who had been first in his (and the new president's) class at Annapolis, "Admirable Admiral Stansfield Turner," as the New Republic called him, a thoughtful,
even reforming exception to the increasingly well-known horrors of the Agency's history.
At the outset, the New York Times editorially praised this regime as "rightly unruffled by the old politics of cold war confrontation." The right-wing National Review was likewise sure that
As with so much else, our barely surface-scraped history has yet to show the tragic complexity that was Jimmy Carter, whose presidency one scholar would sum up as "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory." There were omens of what was to come even before he took office -- his long-held support for the Vietnam
War, his campaign-trail vagueness (like Brzezinski's), his administrative equivocations as governor, his steely religiosity born of a conversion following an electoral defeat. Whatever the causes, the effects would be all too plain.
Brzezinski and aide Bob Gates knew their man. With earnest conviction, habitual vacillation, and chaotic management of his soon splintering regime, Jimmy Carter -- behind what the doomed Shah of Iran once described as his "frozen blue eyes" -- would prove among the coldest of cold warriors. Four years later, when the incessant bureaucratic infighting for the President's favor was over, Vance (no pussycat) was a broken man; Brown and Turner had been sidelined; and even a victorious Brzezinski was uneasy with the wreckage they had wrought.
By then, the precedents had been set for the imperial excesses that would make the 1980s the preamble to our own post-9/11 era. Though glad to see them go, at least one beneficiary of their rule was happy with the result. "Great continuity between Carter's approach. and that of his
successor, Roonald Reagan," was how Bob Gates would proudly describe it.
When it came to the
Nitze, now representing the Committee on the Present Danger, the latest right-wing, military-industrial front fielded to attack détente. Soon, Brzezinski and Gates had won a defining victory. They had persuaded Carter to bring in the national security advisor's old friend and onetime co-author, Samuel Huntington, as a special consultant on strategic policy. The Harvard
reactionary would later become one of the gurus of the neoconservative movement (and author of the ubër-Orientalist book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order).
In the summer of 1977, his cohorts would leak to the Washington Post that
The conveniently have-it-both-ways Huntington-Brzezinski-Gates document combined "cooperation and competition" into a single
honored with pledges of faithfulness by diplomatic day; the second indulged with a serial philanderer's abandon by covert-action night. Among other historic effects, PRM-10 would be the basis for what would develop into Carter's
"rapid deployment force" in the
It would signal the beginning of what historian Andrew Bacevich has labeled our "oil wars" in the region. More generally, the "report" sanctioned, for a new era, the use of trumped-up "special" panels or consultants to incite political alarm in the body politic whenever militarism -- and
especially military spending -- was thought to be in danger of waning.
Against the continuing obstruction of Brzezinski and Gates, Vance would coax SALT II, which had seemed imminent at Carter's inauguration, to a cheerless
Carter withdrew the treaty as part of his outraged reaction to the Soviet invasion of
A shallow Congress, aided by a diffident media -- along with an ever uninformed, distracted public -- would never deal with the realities of the Carter-launched arms build-up that would become epochal in the Reagan years. No matter that it involved hundreds of billions of precious taxpayer dollars, venal interests
holding hostage crucial public needs for generations to come, and, in the process, the ever-increasing danger of national extinction in nuclear war by accident or provocation. "Don't worry, boys," Mississippi Senator John Stennis once told the staff of the Armed Services Committee which he chaired, "nobody ever takes a hard look at the real numbers here."
As Rumsfeld had admitted when he left as secretary of defense in 1977, despite the Soviet push toward nuclear parity, the
multiple-warhead, land-based missiles,
In the most fevered right-wing scenarios, with the Soviet strategic force taking out 90% of American missile silos, only 18% of the American strategic array would have been lost. On the other hand, the U.S. could calculably destroy some 40% of the Russian deterrent force, and Carter's decision to deploy new Pershing II missiles in Europe in the late 1970s put some of that U.S. first-strike capacity 10 minutes from Soviet command-and-control centers.
Meanwhile -- the point of it all -- Pentagon budgets rose steadily. In part, that spiral was the price for Congressional backing of SALT II, and it was invariably justified, as it always had been during the Cold War, by inaccurate or knowingly false claims about the rate of increase in Russian military spending.
(Moscow's expenditures actually leveled off after 1976.) It was madness -- and business as usual.
On a dark, cold December night in 1979, an elite unit of Soviet troops, Kalashnikovs blazing, dashed up the slanting drive to
The very post-Vietnam détente-restraint of most of Carter's advisors -- and the President's own inner hawkishness -- opened the way for his presidency to become (contrary to conventional wisdom) a precedent-setting period for covert intervention. And Gates, as Brzezinski's hard-line staff officer for Soviet affairs, and later his personal outer-office assistant in the White House West Wing, was at the center of it all.
In his 1996 memoir, he would write contemptuously (and, in the case of Secretary of State Vance, falsely), "Because Vance was unwilling to use diplomatic leverage against the Soviets, and [Secretary of Defense] Brown and others wanted no part of
Gates and Brzezinski promptly impressed upon Carter that, "It is his CIA," as Gates described it. Within weeks of his inauguration, at the urging of the national security advisor and his Soviet affairs specialist, the new president approved the first covert
actions inside the
These operations were aimed at inciting religious discontent in Soviet
By July 1977 -- less than two weeks after the Sandinista rebels took power from the 43-year Somoza-dynasty dictatorship in Nicaragua, a long favored Washington client in Central America -- they would begin mounting the first covert actions against the popular, and populist, new regime in Managua, as they would soon be shoring up a ruling oligarchy that faced a mounting leftist insurgency in neighboring El Salvador.
There would be similar interventions and intrigues in the Horn of Africa, on the
Nowhere would their penchant for the covert prove more fateful than in the remote
At the behest of
begun offering covert backing to Islamic radical rebels in
authoritarian regime of Mohammed Daoud, then in power in
Support for the anti-Daoud religious insurgents, far more anti-American than the
its western flank as it faced rival
All the backing ceased, however, after an abortive rebel uprising in 1975, as Daoud launched his own détente policy with
Department coolly adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward the new regime.
But with predictable alarm bells ringing in
and Russophobic China, Carter's covert interventionists at the NSC saw an irresistible "opportunity," as Gates put it, "to counter the Soviets." Three weeks after the
Gates memoir dutifully notes the ensuing stream of bland speculations by the CIA's Soviet analysts about what the Soviets might next do in their tortured relationship with a faltering, needy, yet independent Afghan communist regime. But he spares us the covert actions the CIA carried out, amid a stream of memos Brzezinski and he sent Carter about the Soviet "threat" in
By summer 1978,
the old insurgent training camps in
In April 1979, with arms and agitators paid for by the CIA and Pakistani intelligence (the Shah fell in January ending SAVAK's role), a radical Islamic uprising in Herat in western Afghanistan led to the slaughter of thousands on both sides, including more than 200 Russian military and civilian advisors and their
families. Even so, the Soviets stoutly refused to intervene militarily. They even made their refusal absolutely plain to
The old Great Game was now in cynical full swing. In the sort of mad plan not even Rudyard Kipling could have imagined, they plotted to personally "give the Soviets their
The ceaseless machinations and bloody civil strife culminated, of course, in the December 1979 Soviet invasion. The Politburo had resisted it for more than a year and hesitated, even at the
eleventh hour. It is, by any measure, one of the more dramatic, and chilling, stories in the annals of world politics. By now, Brzezinski and Gates had essentially created a new foreign policy for the
By the time, they and their co-conspirators are through, a course will have been set that will take the Afghans into a nightmare universe in which a million-and-a-half of them will die, millions more will become homeless (in what the UN will call "migratory genocide"), and, for more than a quarter-century, their country will be a continuing catastrophe beyond any other in the history of nation-states. In part, it is his own work that Gates now faces as secretary of defense.
at First Sight"
Meanwhile, during 1978, they were attending, with similar heedlessness, to the long death rattle of the Shah's regime. That disaster, prelude to another crisis that now confronts the new Secretary of Defense, is captured in snapshots.
There is Jesse Leaf, the CIA's analyst for
century France. When he tries to warn his superiors of what the future may hold, unlike Gates, he sees his career stunted.
There is Brzezinski's call to U.S. Ambassador William Sullivan in
replies sarcastically, "You must be speaking Polish." It might have been an epitaph for so much.
By the time the mullahs control
He is just settling in as a "senior manager" in the CIA's "
-- he knows a failing regime when he sees one, in
year -- the failed hostage-rescue raid in Iran, the "green light" Washington covertly gives Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to attack Iran in what will be a million-casualty, decade-long war, and, of course, the president's relentless political decline, ending in the election of Ronald Reagan. This he finds "heartening," as he tells friends.
He still does not know just how important the Turner job he didn't want has been; for it's there that he meets Ronald Reagan's new CIA Director, a Republican wheeler-dealer who had been the new president's campaign manager. He arrives at the Agency intending, as he often says, "to make war on the
A Chronology from Hell
Kids on his block in
Through it all, there will be seedy connections in the milieu of the New York Mob, shady practices that bring lawsuits for plagiarism, an unsuccessful Congressional run, and constant jockeying for position on the right-wing fringes of Republican politics. Fired by his rise as a devout leader of the Roman Catholic
laity, he also becomes a ferocious anti-communist. Buccaneering Bill Casey, his (Jesuit-educated) Agency deputy John McMahon, and Gates (with his own fervor) will give new meaning to the old quip about what CIA really stands for -- "Christians in Action."
If Gates had only done his time at the NSC and then vanished into the bowels of the CIA, his role would have been significant, though largely unseen and barely recorded. But with Casey's arrival in 1981, he began to rise into the kind of visibility that would, in 2006, take him into the Pentagon as a potential savior.
Under Nixon, Casey had been chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he had lied to the Senate Banking Committee about his past business imbroglios, and narrowly survived ouster. In 1976, and again in 1980, he was an energetic fund-raiser and fixer for the Reagan campaigns. When campaign manager John
Sears ran afoul of Nancy Reagan, Casey was an obvious choice for Reagan handlers and future
secretary-of-state job that he yearned for went to former Kissinger aide Alexander Haig -- "He's more handsome than I am but not nearly as smart," Casey would quite accurately say -- the CIA was his recompense.
What now followed for Robert Gates was a history as convoluted as it was momentous. Here it is, ever so briefly, in year-by-year snapshots -- against the backdrop of the era's furious, far-flung covert actions, from
the usual clash of ambitions, called into question the very integrity of American intelligence. Gates would be a combatant in all of them.
Casey names Gates to head his Executive Staff, where he "smoothes" relations between the director and his initial chief deputy, Bobby Ray Inman, a 50-year-old ex-admiral off various intelligence postings. On finding Casey leaking to New York Times columnist William Safire to discredit him --
leaks Gates joins in -- Inman hits the ceiling and departs. About the same time, Gates begins to tell friends that he has aspirations someday to "get to the top" of the Agency.
Gates writes Casey a crucial memo on the Agency's "lagging" covert-action capabilities and sluggish "responsiveness." "The CIA," he argues, "is slowly turning into the Department of Agriculture." It is what the director has long suspected and just what he wants to hear from his assistant.
Near the end of the year, Gates is offered a lucrative job with a private company providing intelligence to corporations doing business abroad. It will double his salary with a huge signing bonus. He decides to take it; but, the day before he is to sign, suddenly changes his mind. The company goes out of business in a few
In January, Casey appoints Gates Deputy Director for the Intelligence Directorate. He promptly informs the analysts under him that he wants their "best estimates," but begins to keep a "scorecard" of favored analysts that influences promotions. "A little Napoleon," one analyst calls
"It was well known among analysts at the time," wrote former Soviet affairs officer Jennifer Glaudemans, "that we would have a hard time getting Gates to sign off on analyses that did not fit his ideological preconceptions." Added Thomas Polgar, an Agency veteran who returned as a consultant in the 1980s, "You never heard about a Gates position that differed from Casey's. Either he sincerely believed in Casey's ideology or he catered to it."
Casey asks Gates for a new National Intelligence Estimate on "Soviet support for international terrorism" and also "how far . the Soviet Union would go in its support for leftists in
Soviets' and ‘Soviet apologist' thrown in certain people's direction."
Gates begins "astutely" (as Time magazine would later put it) cultivating Vice President George H. W. Bush. He takes special pains to brief Bush personally and offers quiet personal briefings to his staff as well, which is otherwise essentially ignored by the Reagan White House.
Late in the year, Gates issues a report that leftist rebels in
Casey names Gates as chairman of the National Intelligence Council that oversees the preparation of all National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs).
Though the CIA put such documents together, intelligence analysts at the Pentagon and the State Department traditionally inserted footnotes of dissent. Now, they are suddenly prevented from doing so. "This false unanimity was no accident," comments a former ranking State Department official. "It was the personal creation of Mr. Gates."
On December 14, Gates writes Casey a 5-page policy memo, arguing that the "Soviets and Cubans are turning
Without U.S. aid the Nicaraguan Contra rebels will not survive, Gates argues, but the U.S. should also break relations with Managua, impose sanctions and a quarantine, set up and recognize a government-in-exile, and launch "air strikes to destroy a considerable portion of Nicaragua's military buildup." He is
recommending "hard measures," he tells Casey; it's time to "stop fooling ourselves."
Gates will later claim that he never shared Casey's hawkish convictions or priorities regarding
"For reasons I never fully comprehended," he wrote in his memoir, "Bill Casey became obsessed with
(the Middle East and
The Bir bombing in March 1985 is part of a grim sequence of events most Americans never acknowledge. Gates knows it all intimately.
In September 1982 -- despite
withdrawal "treacherous" and "criminal."
In April 1983, in reprisal, a pickup truck carrying 2,000 pounds of explosives slams into the U.S. Embassy in
hurtles past Marine guards at the "Beirut Hilton" barracks at the airport with 12,000 pounds of explosives, killing 241 Marines.
In February 1984, in what an official calls "one of our worst defeats," President Reagan withdraws the surviving Marine contingent from
Three weeks after Buckley's kidnapping, Reagan signs an order, drafted by NSC staffer Oliver North, setting up a new, secret "Counterterrorist Task Force" to explore the trading of arms for hostages. This will begin the Iran-Contra scandal.
In March 1985, Phalangist agents plant the car-bomb intended to kill Fadlallah. Around the same time, Gates drafts plans for a joint US-Egyptian invasion of
That spring Gates also convenes a special group to issue a memo arguing that the Soviets were behind the 1981 attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II. Asked years later about the murder plot by historian Fred Halliday, he replies, "It will probably remain one of the great unanswered questions of the cold
war." Reflecting White House pressure, in the same vein Gates also presses analysts to implicate the Russians in European terrorism, though most analysts know that reports prompting the White House request are false and based on the CIA's own "black propaganda" operations ordered by Casey at Gates' own urging.
In May 1985, Gates issues a Special National Intelligence Estimate on
In August 1985, an NSC meeting discusses the illegal supplying of
On October 1, 1985, CIA National Intelligence Officer Charles Allen tells Gates of suspicions that funds are being illegally diverted from some unknown source to the Nicaraguan Contras, though Gates claims he will not remember being told any of this until almost a year later.
A November 22nd Gates memo reports that Iranian-sponsored terrorism has "dropped off substantially," another major reversal in analysis, though no specific evidence is cited. Later that same month, U.S. Hawk missiles are shipped illegally to
In 1985, the CIA first notices "significant" numbers of "Arab nationals" coming to
to fight with the U.S.-backed Afghan Mujahideen in the anti-Soviet war. "Our mission was to push the Soviets out of
blunter with historian Halliday: "Frankly, we weren't concerned about what post-Soviet
In April, Casey promotes Gates to full Deputy Director. Later that year, Congress launches the Iran-Contra investigation and a November 24th White House meeting begins, as an aide to Secretary of State George Shultz notes, "rearranging the record." At the close of the year, Casey suffers a seizure and is hospitalized with the brain tumor that will ultimately kill him.
Casey resigns on January 29th and, four days later, Reagan nominates Gates as director.
But reckonings have, by now, begun. That January, Shultz tells Gates: "I feel you all have very strong policy views. I feel you try to manipulate me. So you have a very dissatisfied customer. If this were a business, I'd find myself another supplier." It is only the first of much Shultz testimony. "I had come to have grave doubts, "he would tell Congress later, "about the objectivity and reliability of some of the intelligence I was getting."
In February, Gates has his confirmation hearings, amid a rising public and Congressional furor over the multiple illegalities of the Iran-Contra Affair. The questions are withering, especially when it comes to his implausible claim that, as a senior CIA official, he had no incriminating knowledge of, or part in, the
scheme, and on his role as a principal drafter of Casey's November 1986 testimony in which the director lied to Congress.
"Sycophants can only rise to a certain level," Gates shoots back in response to charges of pandering (and negligence) in furtherance of his career. But to so much of what the Senators charge that he did and did not do, no real rebuttal is possible.
A Joint Committee on Iran-Contra asks that Gates' nomination be put on hold. Republicans warn the White House that to continue the confirmation fight will only focus more attention on the scandal. On March 2, Gates and Reagan withdraw his nomination.
Gates' prominence would not end, of course, with that bitter climax to his fateful six years at Casey's CIA. In the fitful sequel to the Iran-Contra investigation, Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh would secure convictions of several ranking Reagan officials, but ruefully conclude, in a 1991 report, that, despite a maze
of evasion and prevarication, with testimony "scripted and less than candid" and with "two demonstrably incorrect statements," there was still "insufficient evidence that Gates committed a crime."
Meanwhile, Congressional inquiries petered out short of confronting the still iconic Reagan with the impeachable offense at the heart of the scandal. They were also blunted by the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the ranking Republican on the Joint Committee, Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney.
Set against the totality of his record, there was little doubt, however, that Gates had been complicit in the crimes of the era, even if such a case wasn't fit for a jury. Ironically, no indictment could have been more damning than his memoir: "A thousand times I would go over the ‘might-have-beens.' If I had raised more hell with Casey about non-notification of Congress, if I had demanded that the NSC get out of covert action, if I had insisted that CIA not play by NSC rules, if I had been more aggressive with the Director of Operations in my first
months as Deputy of Central Intelligence, if I had gone to the attorney general." It was a strange form of contrition, revealing how much he knew and could have done, with all those "might-have-beens" reduced to the first and decisive "if" -- if Bob Gates had not been the hawkish careerist he was under Casey's richly rewarding patronage.
He would remain as deputy under the new CIA director, former head of the FBI and St. Louis judge William Webster, a figure of scandal-free rectitude who had little grasp of foreign affairs or intelligence. Webster's four-year tenure would be a holding action through the end of the Cold War. His rule would come to grips
with none of the Agency's Faustian bargains and corrupt practices, from alliances with drug-traffickers to the money-laundering and looting of thrifts, from 900 major interventions and several thousand secondary actions to its 1980s bafflement at Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and its inability to grasp that the USSR was a moribund empire. Expected to deceive its
enemies, an intelligence service must never willfully, or by incompetence, lie to itself -- yet that was, in large measure, Gates' legacy, and his stand-in Webster left it intact.
In March 1989, with the presidency of George H.W. Bush, whom he had long cultivated, Gates returned to the NSC as National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft's deputy. For the next three years, in concert with Cheney as Secretary of Defense, he waged a final battle against the Soviets, denying at every turn that the old enemy
was actually dying.
When Webster retired in 1991, Bush nominated Gates again as director, and for a time it seemed, as a Senate staffer put it, "smooth sailing." Then, suddenly, he found himself facing what one old colleague called a "virtual insurrection" of current and former CIA officers, who trooped to Capitol Hill to testify with unprecedented candor and courage to his record of corruption of intelligence.
It was an extraordinary rebellion against what the New York Times called Casey's (and, by extension, Gates') "dark legacy." In the end, there would be an unprecedented 33 Senate votes against confirmation. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman David Boren had to conduct "his own covert action" to secure the nomination, as one witness described it. ("David took it as a personal challenge to get me confirmed," Gates would write.) An Oklahoma Democrat with wealthy backers and presidential ambitions, as well as a personal
reputation long the subject of
As director at last, Gates would convene some 14 committees on reform and reorganization, shift budgets from the Cold War to the new targets of terrorism and economic espionage, and pursue other changes national security historian John Prados would find "laudable and energetic." But in his little more than a year in office, there would be no substantive changes in the enduring culture of the Agency. "After all that had happened, after all we knew," one ranking officer said of the flurry, "no one was listening."
Gates would remain under the new president, Bill Clinton, just long enough for one final disaster, providing what Prados called the "initial architecture" for the outgoing Bush regime's "humanitarian" invasion of
lords who had once been in the pay of the CIA.
Gates' CIA retirement in 1993 would be punctuated by delayed detonations from the past: There would be a Russian intelligence archive linking him to the notorious 1980 "October surprise" in which weapons of U.S.-origin were shipped to Iran, while the embassy hostages, already held for so long in Tehran, were not released until after Ronald Reagan's election. A former NSC staff officer gave sworn testimony that Gates was implicated in illegal arms shipments to Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-gate scandal of the 1980s. A CIA Inspector General issued a
devastating post-mortem on the Agency's analytic "hyperbole" in the Gates years, as well as its security disasters with Soviet moles Aldrich Ames and Edward Howard, among others.
Not least, there was the Gary Webb episode, in which an intrepid young journalist in
to extensive "briefings" by Gates and other officials of the era to discredit the revelations, which even the CIA's own Inspector General would later partially vindicate.
And yet, his 1996 memoir was a truly self-satisfied document, celebrating the Cold War "victory" -- his victory -- over an enemy that "was an evil empire." The Agency emerged from his account as an earnest college faculty of slightly inconsistent quality, whose covert actions were invariably, bloodlessly "necessary." Asked once why the CIA had supported the most fanatically atavistic mujahideen groups in
answered simply, and with a kind of devastating, pass-the-buck candor, that the anti-Soviet intervention had been "delegated to the Pakistanis and it was their decision." Asked about a "disgraceful record of interference in other countries," he replied, in the same fashion, that it had all been done "on the instructions of the president."
His savings and retirement accounts added up to no more than $165,000 when he left government. By the time he was named secretary of defense by a desperate, cornered president in 2006, he was a millionaire from his $525,000 salary as President of Texas A&M as well as directorships that ranged from Boston's formidable
Fidelity Investments to drilling, pharmaceutical, and military-industrial giants. At Texas A&M, his four-year presidency would be a stalking horse for powerful alumni eager to take the provincial school "national." He cut staff, but hired a big-time football coach and athletic director, repudiated affirmative action while claiming more minority enrollment on the
overwhelmingly white campus.
Now, seven months into his tenure at the Pentagon, he has brought to bear his long-honed bureaucratic infighting skills, at every opportunity replacing senior commanders associated with Don Rumsfeld with his own choices from the military bureaucracy. He's brought with him as well his own rhetoric and style which, in
Some who know the record, or at least part of it, see him now as Gates Unbound -- the bureaucrat, if not sycophant, as his own man at last. He is looked to longingly by an unnerved, older-line
The challenges facing him, of course, involve far more than simply damage control (as if he were back at Texas A & M dealing, as he did, with the unfortunate aftermath of a traditional bonfire that got out of hand and killed some of the faithful). After Rumsfeld, but also after nearly half-a-century of high-tech decadence,
America's cannibalized military may well be at its lowest point ever; while, in Gabriel Kolko's simple, if memorable, observation, the United States now faces the "most dangerous period in mankind's entire history."
It is not a predicament that can be escaped simply by staving off some further bonfire -- like a mad attack on Iranian nuclear facilities; nor will Gates, even if successful, be capable of taking more than the initial steps in a rescue in the 18 months that are likely (though hardly destined) to be the extent of his Pentagon rule. But in none of it -- neither the apparently encouraging contrast to Rumsfeld, nor the simple avoidance of disaster in
Roger Morris, who served in the State Department and on the Senior Staff of the National Security Council under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, and after resigning over the invasion of Cambodia, as an advisor in the U.S. Senate and a director of policy studies at the Carnegie Endowment, writes this history for the Green Institute from intimate firsthand knowledge as well as extensive research. A Senior Fellow of the Green Institute and GP360 project which originally published The Undertaker's Tally. Morris is an award-winning historian, investigative journalist and author of acclaimed books on Nixon, Kissinger, Haig, and the