Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bob Gates or Bill Gertz -- who seems more sane?

Bill Gertz wrote a piece in today's Washington Times bleating about an essentially meaningless downgrade in China's intelligence collection priority, a move that's intended to ease tensions with Beijing.

The White House National Security Council recently directed U.S. spy agencies to lower the priority placed on intelligence collection for China, amid opposition to the policy change from senior intelligence leaders who feared it would hamper efforts to obtain secrets about Beijing's military and its cyber-attacks.

The downgrading of intelligence gathering on China was challenged by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair and CIA Director Leon E. Panetta after it was first proposed in interagency memorandums in October, current and former intelligence officials said.

The decision downgrades China from "Priority 1" status, alongside Iran and North Korea, to "Priority 2," which covers specific events such as the humanitarian crisis after the Haitian earthquake or tensions between India and Pakistan.

The National Security Council staff, in response, pressed ahead with the change and sought to assure Mr. Blair and other intelligence chiefs that the change would not affect the allocation of resources for spying on China or the urgency of focusing on Chinese spying targets, the officials told The Washington Times.

White House National Security Council officials declined to comment on the intelligence issue. Mike Birmingham, a spokesman for Mr. Blair, declined to comment. A CIA spokesman also declined to comment.

But administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the new policy is part of the Obama administration's larger effort to develop a more cooperative relationship with Beijing.

I'm gonna be honest: I have no idea what it means to move a state from Pri 1 to Pri 2. Gertz says that there's no movement of assets or shift in resources, but I have to wonder what the hell this rating even means if there's no money or people associated with the ranking. That aside, what's really telling is the last paragraph in the section I've quoted above: Gertz expects his audience to feel outrage at the suggestion that we'd want to have a "more cooperative relationship with Beijing." (Also, dude, why do you need three sentences to say "the NSC, DNI, and CIA all had no comment"?!)

Contrast this with the eminently sane Bob Gates, responding to a question in India today about whether he and his Indian counterparts had discussed cooperative responses to Chinese cyber threats:
We didn’t talk about China at length. We did talk in more generic terms about a common interest in security of the Indian Ocean and security of the global commons, and the global commons meaning the air, sea, space, and if you’re talking about the internet, the ether, I suppose.

There was a discussion about China’s military modernization program and what it meant and what the intentions of that military buildup were. And a desire, I won’t speak for the Indian side, but certainly a desire on our part to engage China in a more routine, in-depth dialogue about our strategic intentions and plans so as to avoid any miscalculations or misunderstandings down the road. As I’ve long said, I was involved with the strategic arms talks with the Soviet Union for many many years. I’m not sure those talks ever actually reduced any arms, but the dialogue over a long period of time with great candor about nuclear capabilities, thinking about nuclear options, thinking about how each side looked at nuclear weapons and at their military modernizations, I think played a significant role over time in preventing miscalculations and mistakes in the relationship between these two super powers during the Cold War. I think that kind of a dialogue with China would be most productive and frankly in the best interests of global stability.
Sounds about right to me. And what about you: are you a Gatesian or a Gertzian on China? (I'm not going to pretend like I have a charitable neutrality on this. If you think Bill Gertz is smarter on long-term strategy towards China than Bob Gates, then... Well hell, I don't know, vote Republican I guess. Mabe Pete Hoekstra will run for president!)


  1. Gatesian. And I vote Republican.

  2. T. Greer -- I was mostly just busting balls with that part (but Hoekstra really is Bill-Gertz-crazy). I voted for McCain, for what it's worth.

  3. Gates all the way, he's got the better track record of sensible approaches to national strategy issues. Gertz is not a sane analyst, he takes current issues and contorts them.

  4. When I first read this, I assumed that the question was rhetorical, given Gates's quadruple-digit IQ and all that.