Steve Chapman

Even though the air campaign succeeded, he says of Libya, charitably, "Problems abound there." The best U.S. response to change in the Arab world, he believes, is to "stop pretending to ourselves that we can predict (or shape) the outcome."

Gates does not welcome the prospect of a nuclear Iran, but he sounds even less open to launching a preemptive attack. Second to his concern about the Iranian program was his determination to restrain the Israelis. If Israel were to bomb Iran, he writes, the result for the U.S. could be "a war possibly more widespread and terrible than those in Iraq and Afghanistan."

When Bush raised the option of a U.S. strike with his national security advisers, Gates argued it would "strengthen the most radical elements, unify the country behind the government in their hatred of us, and demonstrate to all Iranians the need to develop nuclear weapons."

The Iranian government, he said, "would retaliate, putting at risk Iraq, Lebanon, oil supplies from the (Persian) Gulf" and killing any Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He notes that Vice President Dick Cheney promptly "disagreed with everything I had said."

Gates reserves his highest regard for a president he didn't serve: Dwight Eisenhower, himself a former general. As president, he had to deal with the Soviets getting the hydrogen bomb, China building nuclear weapons, a communist victory over the French in Vietnam, an Arab-Israeli war, Castro's revolution in Cuba, and uprisings in Eastern Europe. But after he ended the Korean War in 1953, marvels Gates, "not one American soldier was killed in action during his presidency."

All he wants is for the U.S. to stay out of unnecessary wars of the sort American presidents are so prone to undertake. When the next war of choice begins, Gates won't be among those marching to protest. But his heart might just be with them.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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