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Iraq Strategy Casts Shadow over Gates Hearings

December 4, 2006 at 6:15 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: And now, Gates, Baker-Hamilton, Iraq, et al., as seen this Monday night by Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon’s comptroller and chief financial officer during President Bush’s first term. He’s now a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton.

And Jessica Mathews, a State Department and National Security Council official in the Carter and the Clinton administrations, she’s now president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

So, Jessica Mathews, how do you see Bob Gates as a replacement for Donald Rumsfeld right now?

JESSICA MATHEWS, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Somebody who will be able to command, I think, a lot more of Congress’s trust, notwithstanding the issues that we just heard about, more of a caretaker than a leader, a manager, an executive.

But remember: He’s an intelligence professional, not a defense professional. So he’s coming in, in the middle of six crises, with very little time left. I think the role maximally, really, is more of a caretaker.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, a caretaker?

DOV ZAKHEIM, Former Pentagon Official: No, it’s got to be more than a caretaker. First of all, lots and lots of people other than Donald Rumsfeld have come in without being experienced secretaries of defense. What he brings is executive cabinet-level experience. That’s very, very important.

He brings a record of working with other agencies. He brings a record of being able to work with the Congress. He brings a record, evidently, of satisfying a lot of people when he was head of the CIA. He has to do more than just be a caretaker; being a caretaker for Iraq over the next two years just isn’t enough.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think of that? I mean, do you think that it’s possible that Bob Gates could actually influence Iraq policy? You don’t think so, huh?

JESSICA MATHEWS: Oh, I think he will be a player, but I think the key players here are the president and the vice president.

DOV ZAKHEIM: Oh, he’s going to be more than that. But in a sense, isn’t that what we want?

One of the complaints that one heard, whether right or wrong about Donald Rumsfeld, was that he was more than just a player, that he was dominating everything. Now when someone comes in who has a record for cooperating with lots of people, working in what’s called the interagency, shouldn’t complain that he actually does what people were complaining about Mr. Rumsfeld.

JESSICA MATHEWS: I don’t disagree with that; nor am I complaining about it. I was trying to describe what role I think he’ll play.

I think that everything we know about Bob Gates’ career suggests a very different kind of personality, who’s more interested in team-playing than in perhaps bringing up inconvenient truths and, you know, upsetting the apple cart in the direction of any particular policy one way or the other.

Rumsfeld's memo 'a list of ideas'

Dov Zakheim
Former Pentagon Official
[Donald Rumsfeld] comes up with an idea, and out it goes. And in that respect, he's quite different from Bob Gates, who's an analyst, who's going to think through ideas before he articulates them.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of the apple cart, what did you make of Secretary Rumsfeld's memo that got leaked over the weekend?

DOV ZAKHEIM: Well, I mean, it's very typical of him. He's a man who sparkles with ideas. I was on the receiving end of a lot of his snowflakes. In fact, I had a...

JIM LEHRER: Snowflake is what they call his...

DOV ZAKHEIM: A snowflake is these quick memos. I had a little box in my office called "Snowflakes from SecDef," because they used to pile up. He comes up with an idea, and out it goes. And in that respect, he's quite different from Bob Gates, who's an analyst, who's going to think through ideas before he articulates them.

Secretary Rumsfeld articulates the ideas and then says, "OK, now what do we do with these?" And if you look at that memo, it's got about 20-odd suggestions, interesting that not all of them are mutually exclusive. In fact, he says, "You might want to combine a bunch."

That's very typical of him, throwing out ideas and recognizing that we just cannot go on the way we're going. Now it's Mr. Gates to decide, "OK, to work with others, how do we go?"

JIM LEHRER: What's your reaction to that memo?

JESSICA MATHEWS: I was amazed that it got as much coverage as it did.

JIM LEHRER: Is that right?

JESSICA MATHEWS: Yes, the one sentence that we, quote, "need a major change" is perhaps...

JIM LEHRER: That it isn't working, and we need to change?

JESSICA MATHEWS: What followed it was not a memo in any respect that I've ever written one or read one. It was a list of ideas, many of which were contradictory. They were kind of -- they were certainly not a comprehensive list of -- and there was no analysis and no recommendations. So, to me, it was a lot less newsworthy than it's gotten.

Gates' relationship with military

Jessica Mathews
Former State Department Official
I think we can expect a much better relationship between [Gates] and the uniformed military, which is important at this point, because this passage we're about to go through is going to be terribly painful.

JESSICA MATHEWS: I think one other point to make about Bob Gates, though, at the Pentagon is I think we can expect a much better relationship between him and the uniformed military, which is important at this point, because this passage we're about to go through is going to be terribly painful.

JIM LEHRER: Why do you think it will improve with Gates?

JESSICA MATHEWS: Well, I think it would improve with almost anybody...

JIM LEHRER: Can't make it any worse?

JESSICA MATHEWS: ... from where Secretary Rumsfeld is now and his relationship with the military, and so...

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that, first of all, the relationship is awful, and that it would improve with Bob Gates?

DOV ZAKHEIM: It will certainly improve. Is it awful? I don't know. I mean, after all, there are a lot of senior people in the military who get on with him.

But I think, by and large, military folks did not understand how to relate to him. His style is just so different from the kind of civilian they're used to that many of them just didn't know how, and many of them got demoralized. Rightly or wrongly, that's the reality: They were demoralized.

And one could tell, as soon as the Gates appointment was announced, just a different behavior. I mean, I spoke to loads and loads of military people, and they all felt like, "Well, here's a way that we have a chance now to relate." It just was something -- chalk and cheese, if you will, just talking past each other in many cases with Secretary Rumsfeld.

Analyzing the memo

Dov Zakheim
Former Pentagon Official
Before you go public and say something isn't working, you really ought to tell your boss that you think something isn't working and wait to see what his reaction is.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of talking past, the memo itself -- a snowflake, in the terminology that you outlined -- and, first of all, you agree -- well, you do agree that there was no analysis in it, but that's a typical -- you say that's the way Rumsfeld operated.

DOV ZAKHEIM: That's the way he is; he throws out ideas.

JIM LEHRER: But what about the idea that he was seeing this thing isn't working? And he never really said that publicly before. And he said this in a memo two days before he resigned. You didn't find that peculiar or interesting or...

DOV ZAKHEIM: No, his obligation was to his boss. And before you go public and say something isn't working, you really ought to tell your boss that you think something isn't working and wait to see what his reaction is.

JIM LEHRER: What did you think about that? That he finally put -- now, I won't say finally -- but he put this in writing the way he did. And clearly, the document got out in the public. Do you think he intentionally wanted it out?

JESSICA MATHEWS: I have no idea. But I think if you can't write to your boss what you think, then why be there? I mean, at some point, for our government to operate, you have to be able to put on paper a serious piece of thinking, and analysis, and recommendation. This wasn't that, but truly we have to be able to do that.

DOV ZAKHEIM: It also shows, I must say, that, you know, there are a lot of canards about Mr. Rumsfeld right now. A lot of people are kicking him, and this is a pretty good example of the way he worked.

He did think things through. When he was uncomfortable with situations, he was prepared to reverse himself. He wasn't locked in, and he was prepared to go to the president and say it isn't working. And that was before the announcement. So I give him credit for that.

JESSICA MATHEWS: Well, I think you have to see an awful lot more evidence to find evidence that he was really prepared to make any kind of fundamental change.

And I must say I also think it puts too much on the recipients of his style to say that the military just got demoralized because they couldn't cope with them. He also couldn't cope with the military very well.

And if you remember September 10, 2001, the day before the terror attacks, the big discussion in Washington was, who was going to be the first Bush cabinet member to leave? Because he had managed to totally alienate the military and the Congress. So I would shift, you know, the responsibility there.

But I think the key point of which we would probably agree is that with this enormously difficult time ahead, that there should be a much closer and more constructive relationship and more open between the civilian side and the military side inside the Pentagon is a big plus.

Impact of Baker-Hamilton report

Jessica Mathews
Former State Department Official
I think it's going to be the start of a broader conversation rather than the word from on high that everybody is hoping to find. There is no good solution that somebody can pull out of a drawer.

JIM LEHRER: All right, now fit the coming of Gates, the Rumsfeld memo, and other factors into what's going to happen on Wednesday, which is the Baker-Hamilton report. How does all this come together for you?

DOV ZAKHEIM: Well, for a start, the report isn't going to be an executive order, and, you know, there's so much hope being pinned on something. We were talking -- actually, Jessica and I -- a little earlier. We couldn't remember a commission reporting in the middle of something about what should be done. Most commissions report after something has happened.

But this is not the president reporting. It's not even the secretary of state. It's a former secretary of state and a lot of formers. And as a former, I can tell you: We're formers. That's number one.

Number two is, there are other inputs. We know that there are studies going on inside the Defense Department.

JIM LEHRER: What have you heard about those, anything?

DOV ZAKHEIM: Well, again, they're keeping those very, very much under wraps. But clearly there's that. Then there's Mr. Rumsfeld's set of ideas. There are all sorts of people, all sorts of op-eds, all sorts of inputs.

Again, Bob Gates is going to be part of a team that sorts that out. And they're the ones that have to implement and execute the policy. And one of the things that people always forget is: It isn't just formulating or even analyzing; it's executing. Those are the guys who have to do the execution.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about Baker-Hamilton on this Monday night?

JESSICA MATHEWS: I think it's going to be the start of a broader conversation rather than the word from on high that everybody is hoping to find. There is no good solution that somebody can pull out of a drawer.

And while it's unfair to judge a group that hasn't even produced its product yet, on the basis of leaks, since that's what we have to do at this point, I would say that in the search for consensus what you've come out with is a bottom line that represents far less than anybody's expectations or hopes.

That is that the idea that, well, we should begin a very gradual withdrawal, but it should depend on circumstances on the ground, if the president were to say that, I think most people would scream, "Wait a minute. How is that different, you know, from where we've been?"

So I think this was an effort to find bipartisan consensus, which is terribly important, but that what it reflects is that the country is not yet willing to grasp the nettle of the very painful choices we're about to have to make.

DOV ZAKHEIM: There's one other thing, too, and that is, from the perspective of the Middle East, withdrawal is a disaster. It would follow on a series of cases that they remember -- and it's not Vietnam. We keep talking about Vietnam.

The people in the region, it's Lebanon. It's not following up in Afghanistan after the Soviets left. It's Mr. Carter saying he supported the shah, and the shah falls.

They have a series of cases -- it's not supporting the Shia when they revolted in '91 -- so that they would then interpret a withdrawal or a signal of a withdrawal in such a way that I don't think we would have influence there again.

JIM LEHRER: And that will be part of the debate post-Wednesday. In a word, will we look back on this week in December 2006 as a week that caused Iraq policy to change in any major way?

JESSICA MATHEWS: No, but I think we'll see it maybe as the beginning of the end.

JIM LEHRER: Beginning of the end?

DOV ZAKHEIM: I'm inclined to agree that it'll be some kind of inflection point, if you will. Some slight change of course, but let's not overstate it.

JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.