Saturday’s New York Times reported the leak of a secret January memo from Defense Secretary Gates to “top White House officials” warning that “the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability…”
The article quoted an unnamed senior official who called the memo “…a wake-up call.” But the day after the initial report, Gates told the Times, “The memo was not intended as a ‘wake-up call’ or received as such by the president’s national security team.” He added, “Rather, it presented a number of questions and proposals intended to contribute to an orderly and timely decision-making process.”
Was it that, or something else? All evidence leads to the latter.
This is an example of one Washington game played by “senior administration officials” from time beyond memory. The clues to who and why are not well-hidden.
Who leaked Gates’s memo?
The first Times article differentiates the anonymous “senior official” who described the memo from White House officials who “disputed” his view. That means the most probable leaker was Gates himself or someone on Gates’s staff acting with his knowledge.
Obama’s National Security Advisor, Gen. James Jones, chafed at the Gates memo. The first NYT article quoted him as saying, “On Iran, we are doing what we said we were going to do. The fact that we don’t announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn’t’ mean we don’t have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies – we do.”
But that’s no answer. Gates said Obama’s policy was inadequate, not that he didn’t have one. But the fact that Gates so quickly downplayed the meaning of the memo indicates two things. First, that he doesn’t view the Iran policy disagreement to be a serious dispute with Obama, at least yet. Second, that he stands by the memo in a clear vote of no confidence in Obama’s closest advisors.
Gates is too old a Washington hand to believe that the leak of the memo would result in Obama revising his policy toward Iran. So what’s the point? Is it to contribute to the decision-making process, or to the history books?
Gates is writing for the record. And when Obama’s Iran policy is publicly recognized a failure, Gates – in his memoir – will go back to the memo he wrote and claim absolution.
During the early years of the Clinton presidency, CIA Director James Woolsey was routinely unable to get Clinton into a private meeting to discuss intelligence matters. Woolsey resigned in frustration. There is no reason to believe Gates has been that unwelcome in Obama’s councils. That may change as a result of this memo when those closest to Obama retaliate for what they will see as Gates’s disloyalty to them.
And before the end of the year, Gates may resign.