For US Defense Secretary Advocated Bombing Of Nicaragua
By Joe Kay
29 November 2006
December 1984, Robert Gates, the Bush administration’s nominee
to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary, advocated military
strikes against Nicaragua in response to what he considered to be a
growing threat to US interests in Central and South America. Gates was
then deputy director of intelligence at the CIA.
Gates made his proposal in
a newly declassified document that is part of a collection put together
by the National Security Archives, a private research group, to mark
the twentieth anniversary of the Iran-Contra affair. The scandal involved
top Reagan administration officials secretly selling arms to Iran in
order to finance right-wing “contra” guerillas in Nicaragua
in violation of a congressional prohibition. Gates has long been suspected
of involvement in these illegal activities, though he was never indicted.
Leading Democrats have already
indicated that Gates will be easily confirmed with bipartisan support
before the end of the lame-duck congressional session in December.
In a memorandum to then-CIA
Director George Casey, Gates urged that the administration use “all
necessary measures (short of military invasion) to bring down the regime”
in Nicaragua. Among these measures, he advocated “the use of air
strikes to destroy a considerable portion of Nicaragua’s military
“Without a comprehensive
campaign openly aimed at bringing down the regime, at best we somewhat
delay the inevitable,” Gates wrote. “Without US funding
for the Contras, the resistance essentially will collapse over the next
year or two.”
In the memo, Gates advocated
a view with which he had become associated within the administration
and the intelligence apparatus: a hard-line militarist position against
the Soviet Union and any regimes considered to be “left”
or pro-Soviet. Gates denounced negotiations with Cuban President Fidel
Castro in 1958-60, wrote that the conduct of the Vietnam War consisted
of “half-measures, half-heartedly applied,” and denounced
congressional legislation that placed constraints on executive power
to conduct foreign policy. In the latter category he included the Boland
amendment, which prohibited US backing for the anti-Sandinista contra
forces in Nicaragua.
The lesson he drew from this
historical experience was the need for direct military action in Nicaragua,
which would have to circumvent congressional restrictions. “Any
negotiated agreement simply will offer a cover for the consolidation
of the regime and two or three years from now we will be in a considerably
worse shape than we are now,” he wrote. Gates’
position mirrored that of others in the Reagan administration who now
occupy prominent positions in the Bush administration, including then-ambassador
to Honduras John Negroponte. Negroponte is currently the director of
national intelligence, a position that was first offered to Gates, but
which Gates declined. (See “Democrats
back Negroponte nomination as new documents detail role in contra war”).
The Reagan administration
decided not to follow Gates’ suggestion to carry out military
strikes and instead elected to illegally pursue CIA financing of the
contras, paid for through sales of weapons to Iran. Lawrence Walsh,
the independent counsel in the Iran-Contra investigation, decided not
to indict Gates for involvement in these activities, however there is
little doubt that Gates played a prominent role. Walsh later wrote that
he was highly skeptical of Gates’ claims that he did not learn
of the secret funding until 1986.
Robert Parry, an investigative
journalist who helped uncover the Iran-Contra scandal, noted in an interview
on Democracy Now! November 9 that, even while serving as a member of
the Carter administration’s National Security Council, Gates helped
arrange contacts between Iran and the Reagan presidential campaign.
These contacts continued through the 1980s, and, according to some reports,
Gates helped manufacture an intelligence rationale to justify the sale
of weapons to Iran.
Primarily because of his
role in Iran-Contra, Gates was forced to withdraw his nomination as
CIA director in 1987, however this nomination was resubmitted and approved
by the Senate in 1991. Thirty-one senators voted against Gates, an unprecedented
number for a nominee to head the CIA.
Gates’ role in the
Iran-Contra scandal is not uncharacteristic. He has a long and sordid
history as a leading figure in the CIA. When nominating Gates, Bush
said that he “helped lead America’s efforts to drive Soviet
forces from Afghanistan” in the 1980s. At that time, the CIA was
financing Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, including Osama bin
Laden, in the American proxy war against the Soviet Union.
Even as he was helping sell
weapons to Iran, Gates played a role in weapons sales to Iraq. Throughout
the 1980s, the two countries were at war with each other. An affidavit
submitted by Howard Teicher, a former National Security Council member
under Reagan, names Gates as one of those involved in approving the
sale of chemical weapons precursors and cluster bombs to Saddam Hussein.
Gates has also been accused
of “politicizing” intelligence while at the CIA—that
is, manufacturing intelligence to justify US policy. In particular,
he has been accused of helping to concoct a supposed Soviet plot to
assassinate the Pope in 1981 in order to push for a harder line against
the Soviet Union.
The confirmation hearings
for Gates are scheduled to begin next week, but leading Democrats have
already indicated that he will be easily confirmed. Earlier this month,
the incoming Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said he hoped that
Gates would be confirmed “as soon as possible.” “The
one thing he has going for him ... is that we want the change to take
place very quickly,” Reid said.
Before Gates was nominated
as defense secretary, he was part of the Iraq Study Group, which consists
of top strategists and former officials from both the Democratic and
Republican parties. The group, led by Republican James Baker and Democrat
Lee Hamilton, is expected to issue recommendations next month, which
are said to include initiating talks with Iran and Syria. The Democratic
Party as a whole is lining up behind the Iraq Study Group. The White
House, meanwhile, has announced the formation of its own study group.
Share Your Insights