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As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates prepares to retire to private life—following 5 years as the head of the Department of Defense in both the Bush and Obama administrations—praise is being heaped on him by Democrats and Republicans alike. Herein a dissenting view. History will not be kind to Gates. Despite some noteworthy accomplishments, he will be remembered as the single most important facilitator of an Iranian regime with nuclear weapons. Future historians will compare him to Neville Chamberlain’s military advisers, who—like Gates—strongly opposed all forms of military intervention against the greatest potential danger of the century: An aggressively armed Nazi Germany in the 20th century; a nuclear armed Iran in the 21st century.
In a farewell interview with The New York Times, he put it this way:
If we were about to be attacked or something happened that threatened a vital U.S. national interest, I would be the first in line to say, ‘Let’s go,’ I will always be an advocate in terms of wars of necessity. I am just much more cautious on wars of choice.
This certainly sounds reasonable—at least to anyone unfamiliar with the history of the 1930s. As Hitler was rearming in a clear violation of Germany’s treaty obligation, and making it clear what he intended to do with his planes, tanks and submarines, Neville Chamberlain was arguing against his nation becoming involved in a war of choice. He prevailed and took the military option off the table, thus encouraging the Germans to continue to violate the Versailles Treaty without fear of intervention. Winston Churchill, on the other hand, was warning against allowing the Nazi regime to rearm. Even the Germans expected those nations that defeated them in the First World War to march against them before they could fully rearm. This is how Goebbels put it in his diary.
[W]e have succeeded in leaving the enemy in the dark concerning Germany’s real goals…We wanted to come to power legally, but we did not want to use power legally…They could have arrested a couple of us in 1925 and that would have been that, the end. No, they let us through the danger zone. That’s exactly how it was in foreign policy, too….In 1933 a French premier ought to have said (and if I had been the French premier I would have said it): “The new Reich Chancellor is the man who wrote Mein Kampf, which says this and that. This man cannot be tolerated in our vicinity. Either he disappears or we march!” But they didn’t do it. They left us alone and let us slip through the risky zone, and we were able to sail around all dangerous reefs. And when we were done, and well armed, better than they, then they started the war!
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