There's been a fair amount of chatter about the nomination of Bob Gates for Defense Secretary.
He is considered more of a realist than a neocon, more of a Bush Sr. man than a Dick Cheney man.
And so, there is talk that his nomination represents a real change in course for the White House.
Today's New Yorker piece from Seymour Hersh questions that conventional wisdom:
"Iraq is the disaster we have to get rid of, and Iran is the disaster we have to avoid," Joseph Cirincione, the vice-president for national security at the liberal Center for American Progress, said. "Gates will be in favor of talking to Iran and listening to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the neoconservatives are still there" -- in the White House -- "and still believe that chaos would be a small price for getting rid of the threat. The danger is that Gates could be the new Colin Powell -- the one who opposes the policy but ends up briefing the Congress and publicly supporting it."...
...the White House saw Gates as someone who would have the credibility to help it stay the course on Iran and Iraq. Gates would also be an asset before Congress. If the Administration needed to make the case that Iran's weapons program posed an imminent threat, Gates would be a better advocate than someone who had been associated with the flawed intelligence about Iraq. [A] former [senior intelligence] official said, "He's not the guy who told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and he'll be taken seriously by Congress."
Once Gates is installed at the Pentagon, he will have to contend with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Rumsfeld legacy -- and Dick Cheney. A former senior Bush Administration official, who has also worked with Gates, told me that Gates was well aware of the difficulties of his new job.
He added that Gates would not simply endorse the Administration's policies and say, "with a flag waving, 'Go, go' " -- especially at the cost of his own reputation. "He does not want to see thirty-five years of government service go out the window," the former official said. However, on the question of whether Gates would actively stand up to Cheney, the former official said, after a pause, "I don't know."
Some Democrats, like incoming Senate Foreign Policy Cmte Chair Joe Biden, have indicated support for Gates, on the notion that he represents a break from Rummy.
Other Dems, like incoming Senate Armed Services Cmte Chair Carl Levin have indicated possible opposition based on his role in the Iran-Contra scandal and reputation for politicizing intelligence.
Obviously, Levin is being more helpful here, by at least laying down some markers that Gates should not be taken blindly at face value.
But more importantly, Dems need to be thinking ahead, particularly about Iran.
That means they need to start talking more about their own foreign policy vision and strategy, less about the individual players in the White House.
There is nobody, absolutely nobody, in the White House -- now or in the future -- who should be presumed as a force of reason, and allowed to control the parameters of our foreign policy debate.
Frankly, it doesn't matter if Dems vote for Gates or not.
What matters is how he is confirmed -- with undeserved fanfare, or with proper skepticism.
And in the course of his confirmation and beyond, Democrats should be looking for opportunities to articulate our own approach to pressuring security problems, so the public can have a real informed debate, and not just be distracted by cocktail party chatter about 41 vs. 43, while neocon forces continue to manipulate discussion.
Democrats are not bystanders, certainly not after this election.
They can do better than simply investing false hope in a Colin Powell or a Bob Gates to inject sanity to the White House.
They can inject sanity into the media. They can insist on facts. They can pushback on dubious intel.
Most urgently, they can define the parameters of debate.
Talking about vision, strategy and issues -- not personalities -- is the only way to accomplish that.