The abrupt replacement of Donald Rumsfeld with former CIA Director Robert Gates is a Hail Mary pass designed to provide President Bush a face-saving exit from the deepening quagmire of Iraq. Gates, as Bush noted in his Nov. 8 press conference, is a member of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq survey group, which will present a plan next week that the president is certain to seize upon as his only available life preserver.

Like James Baker, Gates is a reliable member of the team of veterans from the George Herbert Walker Bush years, which has been doubtful about the plan to invade Iraq ever since it was a gleam in the eyes of Rumsfeld. Gates’ ascendancy clearly suggests that the neoconservatives have been tossed into the ashcan of history.

Gates, however, has baggage of his own — carried over from his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, which derailed his confirmation as CIA director in 1987. (He was later confirmed, in 1991.) Gates will have to explain anew his connections with the people who secretly sold arms to Iran — then and now defined as a major terrorist enemy of the U.S. — and who then used those funds to overthrow the Sandinista-run government in Nicaragua. After all, the leader of the Sandinista government, Daniel Ortega, was just elected president of his country in a free election. Iran, by contrast, is now vying with North Korea for the status of the world’s most threatening rogue nation. Just why Gates thought it wise to supply the Iranian ayatollahs with arms remains a pressing question.

Related Links

— compiled by Truthdig contributor Josh Scheer

“Robert Gates” Wikipedia entry

“Toughie, Smoothy, Striver, Spy”

A May 1991 Time magazine profile of Gates upon his second nomination to the post of CIA director

“Did Bob Gates Serve His Masters Too Well?”

A Sept. 1991 Time magazine article that probes Gates’ Iran-Contra links, and examines whether, during his career at the CIA and National Intelligence Council, he “cooked the books” — slanted intelligence reports to fit White House preconceived notions

“A Former CIA Chief on ‘Connecting the Dots’ “…

A May 2002 Time magazine Op-Ed by Gates in which the former CIA director discussed the difficulties of using intelligence to anticipate specific terror threats

“The Man Who’ll Replace Rummy”

A Nov. 8, 2006, profile of Gates upon his nomination as defense secretary

“A Closer Look at Robert Gates”

A Nov. 8 CBS News profile of Gates, similar to the one above

“Gates Faces Major Challenges at Helm of Pentagon”

A Nov. 8 N.Y. Times article on the tough road ahead for Gates as defense secretary

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