There's a rumor going around that Robert Gates is the Secretary of Defense. We'd like to request official confirmation, because based on recent evidence the man running the Pentagon is Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan. For that matter, is George W. Bush still President?
We can't help but wonder after the Bush Administration's refusal last week to renominate Marine General Peter Pace to a second two-year term as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mr. Gates had earlier sent the names of General Pace and his deputy, Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, to the White House for approval as his choices for the nation's top two non-civilian military posts. Mr. Bush had agreed.
But then on Friday, Mr. Gates, or some impersonator, declared at a Pentagon press conference that he had decided not to renominate the two men because he wanted to avoid a "quite contentious" debate on Capitol Hill over Iraq. Mind you, said Mr. Gates, his decision had "absolutely nothing to do with my view of General Pace's performance or that of General [sic] Giambastiani whatsoever."
It's just that General Pace was Vice Chairman for four years and has been Chairman for two more, and was one of Mr. Bush's main Iraq war generals. So Mr. Gates, the ostensible leader of our fighting men and women, concluded that he didn't want to do any political fighting of his own for General Pace. The veteran of combat in Hue City, and the first Marine to hold the Chairman's job, will now be the shortest-serving Chairman in more than 40 years.
Mr. Gates nominated Admiral Michael Mullen to replace General Pace, and because the Chairman and Vice Chairman don't typically come from the same service branches, Admiral Giambastiani also had to go. To his credit, the Admiral declined Mr. Gates's offer of another job and will retire as well.
Mr. Gates seems to think he can succeed as the anti-Rumsfeld by appeasing the likes of Mr. Levin, but his kowtow only makes Mr. Bush look weaker as a Commander in Chief who can't even select his own war generals. Mr. Levin was quick to brag about his latest conquest, confirming for reporters that he had told Mr. Gates that General Pace's nomination would have resulted in a fight. The Democrat will now return Mr. Gates's favor by holding Senate hearings on the Administration's detainee and interrogation policy. Mr. Levin is seeking thousands of documents to further embarrass Mr. Bush, and we're told Mr. Gates is urging the White House counsel's office to accommodate the Democrat.
The irony is that Mr. Pace is less responsible for our Iraq troubles than is General George Casey, who Mr. Gates was happy to support for Army Chief of Staff this year despite similar Democratic threats. As lead U.S. commander in Iraq in 2006, General Casey always had one eye on a U.S. exit and failed to counter the spread of sectarian warfare. He also opposed the current "surge" in Baghdad, while General Pace, whatever his private advice, has been a loyal public supporter of Mr. Bush.
Congressional approval ratings have been falling as Democrats devote their energies to repudiating the Iraq war, and a confirmation battle might even have helped Mr. Bush make his case against precipitous withdrawal. General Casey was confirmed with only 14 "no" votes, while General Pace's reward for loyalty is early retirement. Other officers eager for promotion won't forget that precedent.
General Pace's fate is one more example of Mr. Bush's recent habit of abandoning those most closely identified with his Iraq policy. Paul Wolfowitz received only tepid support from Treasury while he was besieged at the World Bank, while I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby may soon go to jail because the President has refused to pardon him. With Mr. Libby, what is Mr. Bush afraid of--jeopardizing his 33% approval rating? A pardon would be a two-day story. His opponents can't hate Mr. Bush more than they already do, and his supporters would cheer to see the President standing by the man who stood by him when others in his Administration cut and ran.
The Levin Democrats aren't seeking some new "bipartisan" strategy that will avoid defeat in Iraq. They want to blame Mr. Bush for defeat so they can destroy his Presidency and elect a Democrat in 2008. Mr. Bush can't change that through appeasement in Washington but only by improving the facts on the ground in Baghdad. We thought he hired Mr. Gates to make that happen, not to act as a Beltway middleman for Carl Levin's desires.