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Don’t shoot the messenger

Walter Pincus, the Washington Post’s long-time voice of conventional liberal thinking on national defense issues, is unhappy with Robert Gates’ new book. He complains that, although Gates devotes nearly half of the book to his two years at the Pentagon under President Bush, he provides “no embarrassing anecdotes or acidic comments.”

No doubt, there were embarrassing moments at the Pentagon while Gates was serving Bush there. But Gates’ high-profile revelations about the Obama administration don’t consist of embarrassing anecdotes or acidic comics. Rather, they consist of instances of criminal bad faith on the most fundamental matters our government deals with.

According to Gates, Hillary Clinton told President Obama that she opposed the Iraq surge for reasons of political expediency, and Obama indicated that he did so too. That’s not an embarrassing anecdote; it’s the criminal abdication of their responsibilities as U.S. Senators.

According to Gates, Obama put tens of thousands of U.S. troops in harm’s way in Afghanistan in furtherance of a policy he didn’t believe could succeed. That’s not an embarrassing anecdote; it’s the criminal abdication of his responsibility as U.S. President.

If Gates doesn’t recount those sorts of moments under President Bush, it must be because he didn’t witness any.

The distinction between mistakes, of which Bush made plenty (though must of the major ones preceded Gates’ arrival at DOD), and bad faith in matters of war and peace/life and death seems lost on Pincus. And that’s not the only distinction missed due to the opaqueness of Pincus’ partisanship. He whines that, while Republicans flay Obama for announcing a withdrawal date even as he surged in Afghanistan, “Gates writes that Bush did the same thing during the 2007 surge, just not so publicly.”

But the public nature of Obama’s announcement of a withdrawal date was precisely the main problem. It informed the Taliban of the amount of time it needed to hold out and it demoralized the forces that supported us in Afghanistan.

Moreover, Bush/Gates never set a withdrawal date for the Iraq surge. Gates did tell Senators that he “hoped we could begin drawing down troop levels” at the end of 2007. But he and administration successfully fought off attempts by Democrats to legislate a date when withdrawals would start. Obama voluntarily imparted that information for all to hear.

Gates isn’t an ideological guy, he’s a old-hand and a pragmatist. But he’s not so jaded as to be unable to tell the difference between an administration trying in good faith to advance our national interests and an administration that’s making life and death decision in bad faith, based on political calculation. In Bush he saw the first kind of administration; in Obama he saw the second kind and was appalled.

No wonder Pincus is unhappy with the messenger.

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