In the heady days after the first Gulf War, Robert Gates liked to tell a story about his boss, George Herbert Walker Bush. As Bush 41 was preparing to invade Kuwait in 1990 and free that nation from the clutches of Saddam Hussein, Pentagon generals came up with what they thought was a clever scheme that might prevent the President from going to war. Gates was in the Oval Office when the generals brought in maps, charts and pointers and told Bush that Kuwait could be liberated only if he was willing to spend six months deploying half a million troops halfway round the globe. The reluctant generals were betting, Gates explained, that no U.S. President would agree to such a crazy and expensive adventure. But what made Gates smile when he told the story was the cool and determined way Bush responded to the uniforms' rush job. "Sounds right," said the old Navy pilot. "Do it." The generals left the Oval Office looking pale and drawn. And the biggest and most successful U.S. military operation since World War II got under way.
Soon it will be Gates' job to go into the Oval Office with his own set of pointers, maps and charts, and run a very different briefing for a very different member of the Bush family about a very different conflict in Iraq. This time, Gates will be advising George W. Bush on how to get out of--not into--a war, even though the President still believes, in the face of a humbling electoral repudiation and a U.S. death toll approaching 3,000, that the invasion of Iraq was wise, worthy and well planned. Gates' task as the new Defense Secretary is to preach change to a leader who has stuck to his line--despite all kinds of evidence to the contrary--for years now.
The Greeks believed that the gods visit the sins of the fathers upon their sons. But when it comes to the Bush family and Iraq, the tragedy runs from stem to root. And so over the next few weeks, key members of Bush's father's vaunted foreign policy team--the real A-team of the Republican foreign policy establishment--will step in and conduct what amounts to a family intervention. Led by former CIA Director Gates and former Secretary of State James Baker, who co-heads a commission on Iraq, Dad's former aides will present the son with a plan for saving his presidency and, with it, some remnant of the family's brand name. None of those involved will call it an intervention, but it's fair to say the nation's future is at stake. Although Gates and Baker will be out front, others who worked for the patriarch are helping behind the scenes. Dynasties don't get to be dynasties by neglecting the line.