Will Bob Gates Resign?

Will Obama 'win' Libya, but lose his defense secretary?

In the lead up to the intervention in Libya, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates was one of the lone voices cautioning against American military action among a crowd of pro-interventionists in the Obama administration. For Gates, intervention needed to be decisive enough to end the American effort quickly – a no fly zone, in other words, would not get the job done. Gates worried that the implementation of a NFZ would simply be the first step: a NFZ would quickly move to target Qaddafi’s land forces, evolve into a full-scale regime change operation and eventually require sending in American ground forces. As it turns out, Gates could not have been more correct. America has quickly moved from enforcement of a NFZ to engaging in regime change activities. While there are no American troops on the ground (yet) there are CIA operatives in Libya who have apparently been working with Libyan rebels since before the UNSC resolution authorizing intervention. Now that the United States has locked itself in Libya, one must ask will Gates survive this war?

On Thursday, Gates testified in front of Congress and (once again) expressed his concerns about the Libyan war. For Gates, it is important that the United States be as uninvolved as possible; while the Secretary agreed that the rebels needed training to combat the more efficient and better equipped loyalist forces, he said that the United States should not be the one to be responsible. Moreover, Gates stressed that he was “preoccupied with avoiding mission creep” and that, in a post-Qaddafi world, the United States should not commit itself to another round of nation building. Perhaps most importantly, Gates told Congress that there would not be American troops in Libya “as long as [he is] in this job.” To me, that sounds like Gates is making a stand.

The presence of the CIA in Libya may be pushing Gates out the door. From the beginning, Gates warned against intervention and the possibility to mission creep and now, as Obama is pushing American further into the Libyan civil war, Gates is perhaps telling the president that the decision to bring American troops to Libya will soon be followed by his resignation. As of now, it seems unlikely that military troops will enter Libya, but if the war effort is prolonged from days to weeks to months (which it certainly might), it is not a big step from a limited role of the CIA to the deployment of ground troops. Of course, Obama will do all that is possible to avoid being entangled in another ground war – with debate currently surrounding the possibility of arming the rebels (which may or may not involve arming Al Qaeda).

Perhaps revealing the determination of the administration (and, could it be, the end of the Gates era), Clinton has said that the White House would push forward with the mission even if Congress passed resolutions to constrain American involvement. For better or worse, Obama has made Libya – and the fall of Qaddafi – completely his and it doesn’t seem as though he will end the role of the United States in Libya until the mission is accomplished. Whatever that means.

Unfortunately, as the war drags on and Gates, the one person who looked at intervention through the appropriate lens, is proved correct, it is increasingly likely that success for Obama means losing the one person who he should have listened to.

Photo from CTV

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9 thoughts on “Will Bob Gates Resign?

  1. I’ve generally respected Gates sober approach to America’s entanglements. However, Gaddafi’s Libya over the last four decades is sad history of assassinations, mass murder (Lockerbie), and attempts at nuclear status. This is a sustained record and only recently has his stance on nuclear development been modified (I suspect by his children). The Gaddafi regime is a slow-growing cancer in N Africa. If Gates goes perhaps it is because his usefulness has peaked. machimon.woordpress.com

    1. I certainly agree that Qaddafi is no good man. As you say, his history as a leader is nothing short of amazing in its brutality. At the same time, from the beginning I sided with Gates. I fear that the US intervention will lead to more death in Libya as the civil war becomes a more than temporary state. Right now the US is just propping up the weaker side. Without stronger intervention, this stalemate will continue. Moreover, there are many additional questions about security for Libyans (and the region) if he is replaced by an unknown.

    2. Gates, as Secretary of Defense, has earned my admiration. He doesn’t make policy, he is responsible for the conduct of military action. Clinton is responsible for state. They both give their counsel to the president, Obama, who must direct our defense. His view by definition must include the universe of American interest.

      The world must solve their own unique problems. Iraq was a neoconservative adventure into preemptive war carrying a big stick. These (would be criminals but for their untouchable position) actors are examples of what’s not happening in accountability.

      Certainly, I don’t have access to the intelligence resources of Gates and the President, but I’m not impressed by what we’ve had before. I have argued against American neocolonial hegemony in the world before. I do suggest that we have no right to hold back because we don’t knowwho is part of the resistance. This is a red herring. The evil of the Gaddafi machine is real and palpable. Is that not enough to gamble on the lesser of two evils.

      …a red herring…

      Do not forget that after the Portuguese revolution in ’74 there were 83 political parties from communist to royalist. I was there and kept a suitcase by the door because you just don’t know which way the wind will blow. To attribute an evil presence in a naive, but Mediterranean people is foolish. I suggest a reading of that history revolution might inform our understanding of this revolution.

      I am for a lower profile for the US. Europe sees the danger lurking in the future but we are not likely to see the tough Portuguese marines, the Irish Defense Forces, or the Greeks, because they are economically shaky. France the UK and a few of the emirates have stepped up, but others, like Germany, have held back (perhaps thinking the whole thing will go away). Europe has tacitly surrendered/outsourced their mission to NATO and the US.

      I believe in diplomacy. I believe it’s better to jaw, jaw, jaw, than war, war, war. However, the Gaddafi conglomerate is not Libya and it is more a mafia than a state. There must be a method help the Libyan people people to renegotiate their social contract and eliminate the mafia that seeks to strangle them and will seek payback from the West, sooner or later.

      1. Carlos, you say that it is Gate’s job to look after American interests (or rather, American interests play a fundamental role). But then you follow up by saying that the US should gamble on the lesser of two evils. I assume this means that the US should intervene (in a limited role) in order to get rid of the evil we know. But what if that is not in our national interest? The US et al. prevented a massacre in Benghazi (pat on the back…), but other than that, what strategic national interest is at stake in Libya? Will our intervention prevent violence against protesters by other dictators? No – look at just about any other Arab country at the moment. Will it demonstrate that the US stands for human rights and justice? No – look at Bahrain or Palestine. Will it show the world that the US will not stand by while innocent civilians are killed? No- look at Cote d’Ivoire. Gates looked at the situation and correctly realized that we have no right to be there.

        There are plenty of mafia-like rulers in the world who strangle their people. If that is the reason the United States is getting bogged down in Libya, it has no reason not to get involved in every other example of a corrupt, inhumane government. If this truly is an effort to rid the world of a bad ruler, how is it that the United States can pick and choose what rulers to dispose of? There is no national interest in Libya to tilt the scales, pushing American intervention in Libya over Cote d’Ivoire. If this intervention is just about Qaddafi, then America is hypocritical for not moving in elsewhere. If it is about something else, I would like to know what. It seems that every justification for intervention given by the administration lacks any basis.

        Furthermore, a gamble on the lesser of two evils means that you know and understand the two evils. We do not know what would follow the fall of Qaddafi. It certainly could be less evil than Qaddafi, though it could be a civil war in the waiting. The Qaddafi machine is real and palpable and we know it. The possibilities of disaster following his fall are real and are not pulled from the blue. This is a gamble that the devil we know will be better than the one we don’t.

        Now that the US is involved, I – like you – feel it would be beneficial for the US to take a back seat to other powers – France, UK… (Germany is not hoping it will go away. It, like Gates, worried that this would be a strategic blunder.) However, in general, I think that -like you said – “The world must solve their own unique problems.”

  2. Gates is a good man. He has told us the truth about what this intervention could mean in real terms. It is a shame the President chose to ignore his wisdom. We do not belong in the Middle East militarily. The people there must fight for their freedoms and bear the consequences of that fight.

    1. Hester, Gates has done a fine job. This is certainly a time when the president should have listened to him. While I have opposed intervention from the beginning (some old posts here will demonstrate) I think that the whole operation could have been much less painless if there had been a real goal or end point where the US could get out. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen like that. Thanks for the note.

  3. Hi Chris,

    Gates is a civilian general focused on implementing defense (offense) policy. Life is often a crap shoot and often we lose. Abandoning the Afghanis after the USSR withdrew is an example of fecless, unenlightened leadership, Disbanding the Baath dominated Iraqi military leaving an armed military class restive and unemployed is another.

    The US, indeed, every country in the world will continue to make pragmatic decisions about what will work best for their own selfish interests. Do we really care about Bahrain or Israel? Not really. Israel is a Western outpost in the Mid-East, What led up to that is an emotional issue that has little to do with realpolitik. The world is in dynamic tension at all times.

    However many SOBs there are in the world is of interest but I don’t feel any need to make the world look like a suburb of New York. Some people think there should be a universal moral code but this is pure eurocentricism. I might be personally offended by female circumcision but I don’t believe in a universal moral code. We eat cows but the Indians don’t. Some Asians eat civet cat and dog. My Icelandic friends eat whale. I do too, when I’m in Iceland.

    I don’t feel responsible for freedom in Libya. I think the Gaddafi’s are a real and present danger to the world and should be terminated before the infection spreads. Emerson says “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” There is no hypocrisy in international affairs, only pragmatism.

    We know what Gaddafi is capable of, we do not know what the rebels may be. I don’t happen to think that the mass of rebellion across N Africa are Taliban any more than demonstrators in Germany were part of the Bader-Meinhof Gang in the ’70s. I don’t fear Muslims any more than I fear Kansas Protestants. Gaddafi is a bomb with a long fuse and if he should survive we will all pay for our cowardice.
    Btw, your logo is Arabic but you write American (not English, Aussie, etc)

    1. Carlos,

      Nice comment. My one issue has to do with how long we have put up with Qaddafi. He has been in power longer than any other Arab leader. He threatened western interests much more before (PanAm, nuclear ambitions…) than now. We do know what Qaddafi is capable of, but it is difficult to see how the disaster influences American (or even western, in general) interests. If Qaddafi survives, there will be bloodshed in Libya and, of course, that is bad. But the west has put up with bloodshed before and will again in the future. Just as long as it is not western blood. The issue with staying in Libya is that it directly threatens western interests and lives.

      I agree with you that Qaddafi is a terrible person who will potentially commit atrocities, but getting stuck in a war defending no US interests is not good for America or the Obama administration. Gates knew this. This is why he advocated staying out of Libya. We don’t know our goal (is it to overthrow Qaddafi?) and we don’t know what to do if we attain that goal – much like a dog chasing a car (to steal a Batman reference), we won’t know what to do if we succeed. Do we nation build in another country? Or do we leave Libya as a government-less nation? Commitment to success (however you define it) means going against American interests, not protecting them.

      And yes, the logo is in Arabic. It means According to Us. Living in and writing about the Middle East, an Arabic title seemed appropriate. But, yet, I am American with American English as my native tongue.

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