By Ann Scott TysonSounds like Bob Gates is off the reservation with Bush - and more important, with Cheney.
Washington Post Staff Writer
AMMAN, Jordan, April 17 -- The decision by anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to withdraw ministers loyal to him from the Iraqi cabinet could advance political reconciliation if the vacancies are used to broaden the government's representation, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday.
Gates, on a Middle East tour, called for a range of efforts from inside and outside Iraq to speed up the formation of a broad-based government of Iraq's majority Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.
Toward that end, Gates said demands in the U.S. Congress for a timeline to withdraw American troops from Iraq are constructive because they exert pressure on Iraq's leaders to forge compromises.
"The debate in Congress . . . has been helpful in demonstrating to the Iraqis that American patience is limited," Gates told Pentagon reporters traveling with him in Jordan. "The strong feelings expressed in the Congress about the timetable probably has had a positive impact . . . in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment."
So what are they going to do? Bush can't fire the guy he just hired to replace the clearly incompetent Don Rumsfeld. Not after he went, hat in hand, to Texas A&M to ask Gates to give up his dream job as President of the University to come save the Department of Defense and the War in Iraq. There would never be an adequate replacement willing to step into the job after that. Gates is really rather free to do as he wishes.
This Freedom from control that Gates has may be why the White House was searching for a War Czar. The rebuffs by the three most likely holders of that position suggest that the White House can't structure around the Secretary of Defense to get what they want. No one who is qualified is willing to become the White House cats' paw to circumvent the Secretary of Defense.
Now we see that Bob Gates feels free enough to say things that don't fit the White House message, so it looks like he knows that the White House can't realistically remove him. It looks to me (as an outsider) as though Bush has lost a lot of the control of how the war in Iraq will be managed.
That won't stop Cheney from being able to sabotage initiatives Bob Gates attempts, but even that may be weakened. Dick Cheney's power to sabotage actions he considers insufficiently hawkish comes from the time when he was in charge of appointing the Executive Department political appointees (See the Plum Book.) That was a job Cheney asked for and was given when Bush first became President. Cheney then arranged for his acolytes to be appointed to a variety of policy positions in every important cabinet department. It has been this network of Cheney acolytes throughout the government which has allowed him to sabotage a number of more moderate initiatives for the last six years. One example is John Bolton who frustrated Colin Powell almost completely the first Bush term. Bolton probably delayed the reduction of tensions with Libya and Qaddafi by at least a year, and may have contributed to the high level of tensions with both North Korea and Iran.
Some of the Cheney acolytes have moved on, but some have also moved up. This network is Cheney's second most significant source of power in the Executive Department, right after his relationship with Bush. But the loss of Don Rumsfeld at Secretary of Defense will have weakened Cheney significantly. The freedom that Rumsfeld's replacement, Bob Gates, demonstrates in making this public statement suggests that change towards a more realistic policy is a bit more possible now.
We need to watch for additional statements and personnel changes out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense that suggest that Gates might be taking control of American actions in Iraq and might actually get something accomplished in spite of Bush and Cheney.