There’s definitely something out there that afflicts high-visibility Republican office holders, causing them to act in ways that seem very inconsistent with the best interests of their party. First, you had Senator John McCain, who frequently gives the impression that the only reason he became a Republican at all was because there wasn’t already a party named after him, and it would have taken too much time and money to start one from scratch (although who can doubt that McCain, in his heart of hearts, doesn’t occasionally dream of an army of yowling McCainiacs, wearing armbands featuring a picture of an elephant with a knife in its back?). Then there was Governor Jan Brewer, who initially created an image of herself as a feisty and outspoken opponent of President Obama, only to later “grow in office” by fighting conservatives in her own state in order to adopt portions of ObamaCare.
Now we see Republican Senator Jeff Flake knocking former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and his new book which is highly critical of Obama (and Obama's wanna-be successor, Hillary Clinton). Flake writes: “[F]or a former Secretary of Defense to be so critical of the current commander-in-chief, particularly on an issue like Afghanistan when negotiations over future security arrangements remain unresolved, strikes me as bad timing and bad form.”
Now, I, myself, wonder if Gates wasn’t a bit naïve in being shocked by the overarching theme of c-y-a political posturing manifested by Obama (and Clinton). And as I wrote yesterday, I would have preferred to see Gates publicize his criticisms prior to the 2012 election (Gates left the administration in 2011). Nonetheless, I believe that Gates was, and is, an honorable man, who tried his best to limit the damage that his boss and the Secretary of State were capable of doing to U.S. foreign policy (ultimately an impossible job, given the massive ineptitude, duplicity and ignorance deployed on multiple fronts by those two, and others within the administration). Whatever complaint I might have about the tardiness of Gates’ public comments, I see his book as a legitimate attempt to set the record straight, and to highlight mistaken strategies and skewed perspectives from which future presidents (even one whose name might be Clinton) can learn. Does Flake disagree with Gates’ assessment of Obama’s motives and competence in defining and carrying out U.S. policy in Afghanistan? If so, then I invite the senator to go a step further and enumerate the president’s shining accomplishments in this area. If he doesn’t disagree with Gates’ overall view, then how is a self-imposed gag order supposed to assist an incompetent president to satisfactorily negotiate “future security arrangements”?
Flake then makes the astonishing claim that Gates’ criticisms undermine the likelihood of future acts of bipartisanship:
“Worse yet, it makes it less likely that this President, or future Presidents, will reach across the political or philosophical aisle when filling out his or her cabinet,” Flake wrote. “The country benefits when people with discordant views are in a position to challenge and shape a President’s views in private, when in matters most. This book makes that less likely to happen.”Leave aside, for the nonce, the indisputable fact that Obama is the most hyper-partisan president in recent times, and that his decision to keep Gates on represented a rare moment of lucidity, when the reality of the situation - i.e., the obvious dangers associated with any immediate, radical changes in the continuity of our policy in a country where we were at war - trumped, however briefly, the new president’s otherwise obsessive desire to put distance between himself and his predecessor. Flake seems to be unmasking himself as one of these fatuous aisle-straddlers for whom bipartisanship is more important than truth and transparency. Is it also more important than the lives of our troops, Senator? Because if Obama’s lukewarm and insincere commitment to a workable military strategy in Afghanistan – and Iraq – has led to the unnecessary deaths of our military personnel, then the whole point seems to be that the sacred gesture of “reaching across the aisle” was a cynical exercise in window dressing, and that Gates’ valiant efforts to “shape a President’s views in private” ultimately failed - at which point the only honorable course is public disclosure.
Doubtless one could fill a sizeable room with tomes written by disgruntled bureaucrats who took aim at presidents who belonged to their own respective parties. Is there now to be a doctrine of omertà imposed on cabinet-level officials who are members of the opposition party? Even after they’ve left government employ? If the spirit of bipartisanship, as understood and practiced today, is such a delicate flower that it cannot survive the bracing winds of truth, then let the thing wither and die, for it was never what it was held out to be anyway.