Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bob Gates on the Iraq War Hot Seat

Defense Secretary Robert Gates may be confronting the career decision of a lifetime: Should the former CIA director lash himself to the mast with George W. Bush and risk going down with the foundering Iraq War ship or should he look to a post-Bush period and position himself as a Washington wise man?

Now that President Bush has invited comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, a parallel could be drawn between Gates and Clark Clifford, the Defense Secretary who took over the job in March 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War and persuaded President Lyndon Johnson to start down the road toward a negotiated settlement.

Like Gates, Clifford replaced a Defense Secretary (Robert McNamara) who was tied to an increasingly unpopular war. McNamara was considered as much an architect of the Vietnam War as Gates’s predecessor (Donald Rumsfeld) was of the Iraq War.

In another parallel, it was learned later that McNamara harbored grave doubts about the prospects for victory in Vietnam and that Rumsfeld privately urged Bush to consider a de-escalation in Iraq before stepping down last November.

But a key difference in the cases of Clifford and Gates is that Clifford initiated the excruciating process of withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam, while Gates so far has simply overseen an escalation of U.S. troops into Iraq, the “surge.” Instead of convincing Bush to look for a route out of Iraq, Gates helped send more troops in.....

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