I’ve frequently been impressed by Bob Gates. In a den of thoughtless reactionaries, psychopathic personalities, and just plain morons, it’s no small relief to see a guy like Gates in a position of such power. You can thank Bush the Elder and Jim Baker for this. I have a great many differences with Gates; for example, he’s a bit too paranoid for my liking. However, given his background and current responsibilities, I can understand some sleeplessness. I hold a lot of respect for his intellect and for the rational, informed things he tends to say.
Clearly, this makes him a black sheep in the current Bush administration. First of all, he’s much more of the true conservative mold than the frightening Straussian-mind-control neocon freaks he is surrounded by. Like: he has this radical notion that a defense department should be used for defense, and thinks that good intelligence is probably a better way to fight terrorism than blowing things up. He also has an informed, nuanced view of the trillion-shades-of-gray geostrategic realm in which we live. Change must come from within – and, in that kinda sad sense, I am rooting for the guy.
Another welcome example of his sensibility was clear today. The Associated Press just moved a piece on his remarks today in Singapore. An excerpt:
“In particular, the challenge posed by terrorists inspired by radical ideologies cannot be overcome by any one nation – no matter how wealthy or powerful,” he said, alluding to U.S. efforts to build a lasting coalition.
A member of the audience later asked Gates whether he thought the United States is winning the terror war.
He cited areas of progress, including the elimination in late 2001 of Afghanistan as a haven for al-Qaida. But he also said the Islamic extremists have managed since then to expand their recruiting grounds.
“On the negative side of the ledger, I think we have not made enough progress in trying to address some of the root causes of terrorism in some of these societies, whether it is economic deprivation or despotism that leads to alienation,” he said.
He called for more “creative thinking” to address the root causes of Islamic extremism, but he added that even those efforts will not be the complete answer to winning what he called a long war on terrorism.
“One of the disturbing things about many of the terrorists that have been caught is that these are not ignorant, poor people,” he said. “These are educated people, often from professional families. So dealing with poverty and those issues is not going to eliminate the problem, but it certainly can reduce the pool of people prepared to give their lives for this cause.”
What’s great about the way Gates talks sometimes is that it gives me a glimmer of hope that there is at least one human in the current Bush cabinet with the intellectual sophistication to see the terrorism challenge for what it really is. Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to share his boss’s fourth-grade view that these are “cowards” who “hate us for our freedom” and all these other sick, distracting banalities that do no service to our nation.
Of course, some of the crazy blogs are already shrieking about Gates’ “refusal to say we are winning”, but I guess that’s what I’m thanking him for. Even if we were winning – and any intelligent human knows we are not – unlike many of his colleagues, Gates knows that things just aren’t that simple.
Given the makeup of this administration, it’s small consolation, sure – but damn, at least it’s something. I’ll take it.