Until 1947, the United States habitually told the truth about at least one thing. The job title of the Pentagon’s highest-ranking civilian was the Secretary of War. But the recent slaughter of tens of millions in the Second World War had given the Pentagon’s real function a bad name. So Democrat Harry Truman rebranded the Department of War, naming it the Department of Defense. From that day, the Secretary of War became the Secretary of Defense. War plants, war expenditures and bloodthirsty war industries became more benign-sounding defense plants, the defense expenditures and the patriotic defense industry.
Today, with less than five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. outspends the other 95 percent of the planet combined on things military, including a network of more than 725 bases in a hundred foreign countries. The bucks that pay for U.S. Marines in Somalia, for B-52s in the Indian Ocean, nuclear-armed fleets in the Persian Gulf and much more don’t come out of any imperial war budget. They’re part of the national defense budget.
In that spirit, the president-elect has named what the media are calling his “national defense team.” The new Secretary of War is the same as the old one. He’ll be Robert Gates, a Reaganite and Bush family operative who has headed the Department of War since 2006.
If this were a just society, rather than looking at another year or two in the president’s cabinet, Robert Gates would be well into serving a long stretch for war crimes and lying to Congress. It’s really that serious. When officials in the CIA and other intelligence agencies, or high ranking military and civilian suits at the Pentagon lie to us, it’s not in the same league as a big city mayor fibbing about text messages on his cell phone or how some contract was awarded. When War Department and intelligence officials in and out of uniform lie, it’s about who and how many are, have been, or will be killed. They lie about why they died or will die, and at whose hands. They aren’t above lying about contracts either.
Robert Gates has been lying about matters of life, death and empire for a long time. A National Security Administration staffer in the Carter administration, Gates appears to have been involved in the October Surprise, helping delay the release of U.S. hostages by Iran in order to damage the re-election chances of Jimmy Carter in 1980. When Reagan’s campaign manager William Casey was tapped to head the CIA, Robert Gates was part of the new team. Casey promoted Gates to head of CIA’s analytical division and later to deputy CIA director because of his willingness to embellish and fabricate intelligence saying what policymakers wanted to hear. In a recent Baltimore Sun article worth reading in its entirety, Robert Parry quotes former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman as saying:
Gates consistently told his analysts to make sure never to “stick your finger in the eye of the policymaker.”
It didn’t take long for the winds of politicization to blow through the halls of CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia.
Bill Casey and Bob Gates guided the first institutionalized “cooking of the books” at the CIA in the 1980s, with a particular emphasis on tailoring intelligence dealing with the Soviet Union, Central America, and Southwest Asia, Goodman wrote.
Casey’s first NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] as CIA director, dealing with the Soviet Union and international terrorism, became an exercise in politicization. Casey and Gates pushed this line in order to justify more U.S. covert action in the Third World.
In 1985, they ordered an intelligence assessment of a supposed Soviet plot against the Pope, hoping to produce a document that would undermine Secretary of State [George] Shultz’s efforts to improve relations with Moscow. The CIA also produced an NIE in 1985 that was designed to produce an intelligence rationale for arms sales to Iran.
When congressional Democrats in 1993 refused to pursue investigations of Iran-contra and other off-the-books intelligence operations Gates must have breathed a sigh of relief.
It’s pretty certain that Robert Gates has lied each and every time he has been sworn in before Congress. His lies have cost the lives of many tens of thousands, and obscured the reasons for their deaths.
When Ronald Reagan declared that Nicaragua, a country with the population of Philadelphia (minus the suburbs) and fewer than two functioning elevators constituted a military threat to the U.S., this was the work of Robert Gates. The U.S. intervention in Central America cost at least 30,000 lives in Nicaragua alone. Gates was also at the center of U.S. provision of arms and intelligence to both Iraq and Iran as they fought a seven-year war that killed two million people. He orchestrated intelligence reports that deliberately exaggerated Soviet military expenditures and threat posture to justify Reagan’s rant about meeting the menace of the “Evil Empire” and his unheard of increase in U.S. War Department spending. After serving as CIA director under the first president Bush in 1991 where he remained well into the Clinton administration.
When congressional Democrats in 1993 refused to pursue investigations of Iran-contra and other off-the-books intelligence operations Gates must have breathed a sigh of relief. He remained at CIA until well into Clinton’s first year, and eventually sought the help of the Bush family in getting named president of Texas A&M.
The second Bush administration asked Gates to serve on its Iraq Study Commission, which advocated permanent bases, the privatization of Iraqi oil, and the maintenance of tens of thousands of U.S. troops in-country for the foreseeable future. From there, Gates was named deputy, and eventually successor to Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of War. As late as last year, when Alan Greenspan admitted what everybody has always known, that the Iraq war was about the oil, stupid, Gates ran to the press to say:
“I know the same allegation was made about the Gulf War in 1991, and I just don’t believe it’s true.
“I think that it’s really about stability in the Gulf. It’s about rogue regimes trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. It’s about aggressive dictators,” Gates said.
“After all, Saddam Hussein launched wars against several of his neighbors,” Gates said. “He was trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.”
Sure he’s lying. But it’s supposed to be OK. Robert Gates is, after all, a lifetime member of the nation’s bipartisan foreign policy elite. He could have been just following orders, and his orders at the time were to protect his boss George Bush. Although he took sides against his boss Jimmy Carter back in the day, maybe Gates has learned his lesson. Maybe now the Secretary of War will lie to us with his old Reagan-era enthusiasm on behalf of his new boss Barack Obama. Or maybe not. The question is, whether Robert Gates is lying for his current, his past or his future bosses, as long as his lips are moving in public, who’s the winner? Not peace, not democracy. Not change, and certainly not the legacy of Dr. King, whose mantle Barack Obama dons at every opportune moment.
Not a few Obama supporters are wringing their hands at the selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. The Secretary of State, according to its own web site, has fewer than 5,000 employees. But the Department of War employs more than two million uniformed personnel, hundreds of thousands of civilians, an undisclosed six-figure number of armed mercenaries, and thousands of contractors with millions more employees. The Pentagon disposes of tens or hundreds of billions in secret budgets which are accountable to nobody, not even Congress, and it fields at least half a dozen intelligence agencies, along with a far-flung network of secret prisons and torturers to staff them. It’s not hard to see where the real power is, and where it will remain despite the new administration’s promise of “change.” The only question remaining is how this vast, unaccountable and fundamentally anti-democratic machinery will be employed by the new administration. Here’s a clue.
Millions of Barack Obama’s voters are under the impression that he will speedily withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. For them, the appointment of Robert Gates is not a good sign, but it is consistent with the gap between what Obama’s most ardent supporters persuade themselves that they hear, and what the president-elect and his advisors have actually said all along. As the New York Times admitted last week:
“...While Mr. Obama’s most heartfelt supporters in the antiwar movement may have heard ‘end the war’ as a promise to end the American troop presence in Iraq in 16 months, the president-elect has spoken only of a timeline for withdrawing combat troops, not all American forces.”
Fifteen American combat brigades are in Iraq, but the total number of American troops there amounts to the equivalent of more than 50 brigades, including forces there on missions to support, supply, transport, protect and care for the combat forces, and train and support the Iraqi security forces, which would be expected to continue at least through 2011.
Some Army planners predict that 30,000 to 50,000—and as many as 70,000—American troops will remain in support and training missions well into late 2011, and beyond, should the Iraqis invite them.
Pegging the U.S. force in Iraq at 50 brigades leaves out a nearly equivalent number of mercenaries. If their number is only half that of U.S. uniformed troops, we’re looking at the equivalent of 75 brigades. President-elect Obama pledges to withdraw 15 of these, and only if conditions permit, if the Iraqis “step up,” if commanders on the ground think it’s wise, and so on.
Clearly there will have to be a lot more lies told before this is over. Perhaps the president-elect believes he needs a brazen and proficient lying bureaucrat at the War Department. But is this what the American people need? Is this what they voted for?
Journalist I.F. Stone reminded us a half century ago that, “all governments lie.” But chances are, he didn’t mean this the way some of the president-elect’s supporters will, as a reason to excuse rather than oppose whatever lies our First Black President and his appointees are inclined to tell us—for our own good, of course. If we still have principles, souls and backbones of our own, we must always question and we can never excuse lies told us for the sake of empire, no matter who tells them.
If any glimmer of an independent movement for peace and justice still exists, it’s time for us to engage in our own rebranding exercise. Activists who aim to carry on the work of Dr. King and the movement he led must take the lead in de-legitimizing the institutions that exist to lie and deceive us along with their functionaries. It’ll be easy. All we have to do is tell the truth, and demand the truth from our government. As a beginning, we should insist on calling Mr. Robert Gates exactly what he is in all our conversations, our articles, emails and blogs, our ordinary public and private discourse. He is the Secretary of War. And a career liar.
Atlanta-based Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org