Sun, Nov 26, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Bush's new defense pick no dove, memo confirms

MAN OF ACTION The president has described Robert Gates as `an agent of change,' but a memorandum shows his approach to foreign policy is no-holds-barred


The man nominated by US Pre-sident George W. Bush to be the next US secretary of defense recommended in the 1980s overt military action against Nicaragua, including air strikes and a naval quarantine of its ports, according to a document made public here.

Former top US spymaster Robert Gates outlines these proposals -- and his general views on confronting threats around the world -- in a Dec. 14, 1984, memorandum to his boss, former CIA director William Casey, that was released on Friday by the National Security Archive.

Gates was tapped by Bush to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the wake of the November 7 election, in which Republicans, facing voter discontent over the war in Iraq, lost control of Congress to Democrats.

The president has described his defense secretary pick as "an agent of change" at the Pentagon. But the declassified memorandum shows Gates to be a proponent of a no-holds-barred approach to foreign policy, advocate of covert and overt military action with little appetite for diplomatic niceties.

The document begins with a bitter overview of US foreign policy setbacks in Cuba, Vietnam and Angola and complains that "half measures, half-heartedly applied, will have the same result in Nicaragua."

Acknowledging the covert US aid to Nicaraguan "contras" was not having the desired effect, Gates writes that the US goal should now be "overtly to try to bring down the regime" led by Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega.

Ortega, who was voted out of power in Nicaragua in 1990, won the presidential post back earlier this month in a democratic election.

But in 1984, Gates proposed a four-point plan to wipe out what he described as "a second Cuba in Central America."

It called for launching US air strikes "to destroy a considerable portion of Nicaragua's military build-up," particularly tanks and military helicopters.

These air raids were to be accompanied by a verbal warning to Cuba and the Soviet Union that the US would not allow any more deliveries of such weapons to Managua.

To make good on this promise, Washington was to consider tougher economic sanctions against the Sandinista regime, possibly including a naval blockade of its ports, according to Gates, then deputy director of the CIA.

The plan also recommended switching US diplomatic recognition from the government in Managua to "a government in exile" and giving that government US "military assistance, funds, propaganda support and so forth."

There is no evidence the Gates plan had ever been acted upon by the administration of former US president Ronald Reagan. But his memorandum allows a rare glimpse of his political philosophy.

In his writings, Gates comes off as an apparent supporter of what would later become known as the Powell Doctrine, which recommends either using overwhelming military force or refraining from any military involvement.

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