Defense Secretary had the advantage. He’d watched Pakistan’s public spit up and chew out State Secretary Hillary Clinton and envoy Richard Holbrooke, the Ugly American. He knew exactly what does and doesn’t play - but it showed way too much.
In Holbrooke fashion, Gates systematically wiped out his list with concocted statements like:
“I fully understand why some of you may be skeptical about the U.S. commitment to Pakistan.”
"The leadership will make the decisions... That's just fine with me.”We get the feeling Gates spent sleepless hours perfecting his presentation rather than trusting his heart. Everything was honed to the smallest detail and delivered with the feeling that a very limited debate, if any, will follow. His words sounded like they were made in a factory.
"The Pakistani leadership will make its own decisions about what the best timing for their military operations is, about when they are ready to do something or whether they are going to do it at all."
"So let me say, definitively, that the United States does not covet a single inch of Pakistani soil, we seek no military bases here, and we have no desire to control Pakistan's nuclear weapons."
The product is a managed impression, not a real one, and the difference doesn’t fool many Pakistanis, intimate as they are with American doublespeak.
A double-edge sword cuts deep. Gates’ rhetoric, if sincere, would be a welcome boost to the region. But like Clinton and Holbrooke, cracks in his image shattered the mission. Gates brought more of the same: no excuses, do more.
The statement which consumed the most attention in Pakistan was the threat of Indian retaliation to an al-Qaeda attack. Today at National Defense University, Gates countered the outcry by cautioning his words as “misunderstood” and part of a ‘candid conversation.”
When he said an al-Qaeda-led "syndicate" is trying, "to destabilize not just Afghanistan, not just Pakistan, but potentially the whole region,” and that India won’t hold back in retaliating against Pakistan, apparently he’s speaking hypothetically. He doesn’t expect an attack any time soon.
But India issued a terror alert the next day, citing a plot by al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba to hijack an Air India or Indian Airlines plane. Nice “misunderstanding.”
At least Gates speaks frankly. Frankness can be wonderfully informative, but it’s not synonymous with intelligence. Gates acknowledged there were understandable reasons for “skepticism” and “tainted perceptions” of the United States in Pakistan.
The Dawn reports the absurd: “Mr Gates said he was in the US government in the early 1990s when Russia left the region and the US abandoned Afghanistan and cut off defence ties with Pakistan.”
Now imagine Gates - self-proclaimed Ultimate CIA Insider - walking into a room and explaining he was in the US government, as if no one knew. Mark McGwire’s image appears before us. He didn’t just take steroids, he created the steroid era and remains in denial.
Neither is Gates any old US official. He’s the CIA old guard and creator of the Taliban.
Every Pakistani knows it so almost anything he says outside a total mea culpa will fail to convince. Excuses that leaving the region after Russia withdrew from Afghanistan was a “strategic mistake driven by some well-intentioned but short-sighted US legislative and policy decisions," pop like balloons.
A short-sighted, strategic mistake of self-interest is anything except well-intentioned.
"Frankly, we all had links with various groups that are now a problem for us today," Gates told an interview with Pakistani TV. "And some have maintained those links longer than others... That is largely the reason for a very real, and very understandable, trust deficit - one that has made it more difficult for us to work together to confront the common threat of extremism.”
There’s a McGwire parallel at work in all of this, but at least McGwire showed remorse. Gates has shown none. Yet like McGwire, he fails to take responsibility for his actions and spreads the blame around as a concealer agent. Forced admissions crafted out of half-truths expose the show as a fraud.
Like McGwire, it’s hard to tell whether Gates has made up his own mind, possibly suffering from flashbacks of his own creation.
First he denigrates the entire Taliban umbrella and encourages its total destruction: “You can't say one's good and one's not good. They're all insidious, and safe havens for all of them need to be eliminated.”
Then he adds, “The Taliban we recognize are part of the political fabric of Afghanistan at this point,” and affirms his support for the reconciliation program. It’s safe to assume he wants Mullah Omar dead, which explains the rest of his policy in our opinion.
Perhaps Gates feels a true premonition that leaving the Taliban alive will come back to haunt him again.
But the ultimate McGwire moment comes when Gates outs Blackwater and throws it under the US war machine. After admitting it operates in Pakistan, Gates was delusional enough to claim Blackwater is operating “privately” in the country - and was quickly outed.
McGwire only took steroids for 10 years to heal, not enhance his performance.
Blackwater's developing scandal also proves once more that America interferes with Pakistan’s foreign and domestic policy. Information Minister Rehman Malik swore his job on Blackwater not operating in Pakistan. He’s probably not going to last, though to be fair it seems Pakistanis want him gone anyway.
And the New York Times wonders why Pakistan won’t obey America’s orders. They’ll be happy to know Pakistan is now open to dialogue with all levels of the Taliban. Unfortunately if the NYT is buying Gates’ performance then so is the whole mainstream US media - we’ll get into that later too.
If you don’t believe our review of Gates’ performance, there’s always the Nation, the News International, and the Dawn, which is especially interesting as it focuses on Indian influence in Afghanistan.
It seems, once again, that a US official will leave more questions than answers - like Mark McGwire - and the response is the same too.