Bob Schwartz

Tag: Heritage Foundation

The Gates Book and the Gates Speeches

Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates is about to release a memoir of his tenure under Presidents Bush and Obama. Provocative advance excerpts from Duty are now being released, and these explosive devices are anything but improvised.

Every news outlet, pundit and politician is already busy making points about President Obama, Vice President Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others, based on comments clipped from these excerpts, rather than having read the whole book. Even out of context, it is clear that Gates has formed some definite opinions based on working for and with these American leaders. That is anyone’s privilege, but particularly that of a man who spent forty-five years in laudable public service, much of it at the highest levels of government.

As always, though, opinion and criticism is a matter of perspective, that is, where the critic stands underlies what a critic sees and says.

You can read all the speeches that Gates delivered as Secretary of Defense. This is guaranteed not to be as titillating as reading or hearing about the “best parts” of Duty, but it might give you additional insight that will make the context of the book clearer.

Here, for example, are excerpts from remarks he made to the Heritage Foundation on May 13, 2008, when he was serving under President George W. Bush. (You can read the entire speech here) At that point, the Iraq war was five years old, only halfway to its conclusion. At that point, he had been Secretary of Defense for two years, and from that point, he would remain in that position under President Obama until July 2011.

But there is a more fundamental point that I will close with – and again, historical perspective is important. It is impossible to separate discussions of the “broken” Army following Vietnam – a conscription army – from the ultimate result of that conflict. At a congressional hearing last year, General Jack Keane, former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, recounted the profound damage done to the Service’s “fiber and soul” by the reality of defeat in that war.

The risk of overextending the Army is real. But I believe the risk is far greater – to that institution, as well as to our country – if we were to fail in Iraq. That is the war we are in. That is the war we must win.

There it is, the context: Iraq was “the war we must win.” Gates’ insights into military matters is often brilliant and sensible, informed by his intelligence, experience and education. But on this point he candidly reveals a premise that for some colors everything else he offers. We must win Iraq because the failure to win would “break” the military the way that Vietnam did.

We did not win in Iraq, but technically, we did not lose. That current events in Iraq point to some devolution doesn’t really settle the question. That some U.S. Senators are calling for us to return to Iraq to avoid that loss or at least to avoid the appearance of futility is a partial reflection of exactly what Gates said.

We know that Gates’ personal critiques are based on close working relationships and observations. We also know, or should recognize, that those critiques are grounded in a worldview that others may not, very legitimately, share. If for Gates one of the measuring sticks is whether someone believes that Iraq had to be won, that measure may be skewed by genuine differences in informed opinion. One opinion is that as valorous as the service and sacrifice was, Iraq was a mistake, to be abandoned as prudently as possible; others might now say the same about Afghanistan. What Gates has to say about our leaders is certainly worth listening to, provided we pay equal attention to the mindset of the speaker.

The Republican Health Care Plan Is Obamacare

National Health System for America - Heritage Foundation (1989)

Say something once, why say it again?
Talking Heads, Psycho Killer

Sometimes making a point means repeating yourself and not saying you’re sorry.

The current situation is that Newt Gingrich yesterday criticized attempts by some Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, saying that the party had to offer alternative plans and unfortunately had not one idea.

He is of course wrong. As pointed out in an earlier post Heritagecare, the Republicans at one time did have a big idea about health care reform. It was developed at the conservative Heritage Foundation in 1989, as a market-based alternative to any sort of single-payer national health plan. The centerpiece of this reform was a national mandate requiring everybody to have insurance. With some refinement, this Heritage plan is at the heart of the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare is a version of Heritagecare.

Following the development of the Heritage plan, this is what happened.

Bill Clinton was elected President. First Lady Hillary Clinton promoted the adoption of national single-payer universal health care. This proved to be a political disaster and embarrassment. Health care was taken off the table for years.

Mitt Romney was elected Governor of Massachusetts. He used the Heritage plan—a Republican idea— as the basis for a state health care program. By all accounts, it was a success.

Barack Obama was elected President. He made health care reform a priority, but with single-payer dead in the water—maybe forever—he promoted a program based on the Heritage plan. As proof of concept for the Affordable Care Act, he could point to Massachusetts, where such an idea had worked.

Republicans intent on eviscerating Obama and his presidency used what they called “Obamacare” as a prime example of totalitarian socialism in action. They ignored the conservative origins of the plan. These Republicans were aghast when the Supreme Court narrowly allowed the plan to proceed as constitutional, but continue to do whatever they can to thwart it, including the dozens of attempts to repeal it—the same useless attempts that Gingrich criticized.

Mitt Romney ran for President. He could no longer embrace Heritagecare/Romneycare/Obamacare. He explained that while the plan might be good for Massachusetts, it is no good for America. He was never directly confronted with a version of the question: Are you serious?

Newt Gingrich is a very complicated man and politician, but he should be given his due. He is joining a chorus of mostly old-school Republicans trying to tell the Young Turks to get real. In this case, getting real could actually work to the Republican advantage, though they seem to be too ideology-blinded (and Obama-hate blinded) to see it.

People really do have some serious and legitimate qualms about the Affordable Care Act, and its implementation is bound to be a rocky road. If the Republicans looked back to their own Heritage plan, and if they took seriously the lip service of “compassionate conservatism”, they might actually be able to offer some constructive, earnest and enlightened adjustments—all for the sake of the general welfare of the country. As it is, that won’t be happening now or anytime soon.