On the eve of President Bush’s ill-fated invasion of Iraq, in March 2003, CIA historian Thomas Powers predicted, with almost spooky prescience, exactly how subsequent depressing events would unfold. So I pay a lot of attention to his analyses. Today he’s on the New York Times op-ed page with a piece that reads the tea-leaves on Bush’s nomination of Robert Gates as the new defense secretary. Rumsfeld’s resignation was widely and understandably viewed as a hopeful sign that the president was beginning to accept the reality of failure in Iraq and change policy accordingly. But Powers sees Gates’ selection as an indication that Bush is actually planning more of an LBJ-style digging in of the presidential heels:
Bad news from Baghdad and opposition at home may point to a lowering of expectations, at the very least, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Presidents take failure personally, can lift their voices above the din of opponents, and can use the immense power of their office to force events in the directions they choose.
The verdict of the elections was clear. The public wants to let Iraqis handle their own troubles from here on out, while we start bringing our soldiers home. But that’s not what President Bush has said he wants, so there will very likely be a series of fights over Iraq that will extend to the president’s last day in office. Robert Gates is smart, quiet, dogged and loyal: a well-considered choice for defense secretary by a president determined to bring home that “coonskin on the wall,” to borrow a phrase made memorable by an earlier president in a similar fix, Lyndon Johnson.
[tags]robert gates, thomas powers, iraq[/tags]