I suspect that a lot of people on the left will immediately attack Robert Gates for his history in the CIA and his dishonesty during the Iran-Contra controversy. That’s understandable. But I have a couple things to say about his appointment.

First, you didn’t expect Bush to nominate someone that we agree with politically, did you? We could have done a lot worse than Robert Gates.

Second, Robert Gates is a complicated man with an interesting history, and understanding that history is key to understanding what it means that he has been selected.

Gates does not come from the operations side of the CIA. He was an analyst. He’s also the only DCI to ever rise to the top job from an entry-level position. Within the CIA he was known to be a critic of the operations side. He was not a cowboy like Richard Helms or William Casey.

Gates worked closely with Scowcroft, Powell, and George H.W. Bush during the collapse of the Soviet Union, and taken collectively, their performances deserve very high marks. He has a record of competence.

It’s interesting that Gates agreed to take over the Pentagon because he recently declined to leave Texas A&M to take over the position of Director of National Intelligence. The Pentagon is, if anything, a much more thankless job at the moment. But Robert Gates is a grown-up, not a hatchet man and not an ideologue. His professional training is in analysis. His record of analysis is good.

If you are interested in reading about his thinking on the CIA’s performance during the Cold War, go read a this speech he gave on the subject. It is predictably rose-colored in its praise of the CIA, but it is also one of the best defenses of the CIA I have ever read.

Robert Gates is being brought in, kind of like a relief pitcher, and will go right to work with Jim Baker-Lee Hamilton-Brent Scowcroft to try to salvage something from the ashes of neo-conservatism’s excellent adventure in Iraq. Do not expect the Democrats to fight his nomination. They will welcome it, as should we.

I know that people will want more than a reversion to Poppy Bush’s policies. But, if you were expecting anything more, you were being unrealistic. This is a major concession on the part of the President. There are now two new powers for Dick Cheney to contend with. He has to contend with Robert Gates and the return of the Carlyle Group branch of the Republican/DemHawk establishment, and he has to contend with Ike Skelton and Carl Levin on Armed Services, Tom Santos and Joe Biden on Foreign Relations, and Alcee Hastings and Jay Rockefeller on Intelligence.

Yesterday’s election was not only a repudiation of the Rovian politics of fear, it was a major blow to the neo-conservatives, and to Dick Cheney.

I do hope that Carl Levin asks tough questions about Robert Gates’ integrity and his past performance. Perhaps there are things that I am not currently aware of that could be disqualifying. But, right now, this is about as good of a Defense Secretary appointment as we could hope for. I am most pleased that Bush didn’t do something stupid and appoint a crony or use the slot for some political purpose.

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