05/11/2007 03:16 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Secretary Gates: "Not On Our 10-Yard Line"

In a recent video, the number two leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahiri, begged President George W. Bush to buck the Democrats' attempts to tie a withdrawal date to funding the Iraq occupation so he and his fellow jihadists would have a chance to kill many more Americans. "Two or three hundred thousand" was his desired number. That should finally put to rest Vice President Dick Cheney's argument in 2004 that if the Democrats won members of al Qaeda would be dancing in the streets. It was the Democrats' effort to legislate an end to the war that really irked Zawahiri.

Last Wednesday, May 9, 2007, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said at a Pentagon press briefing: "My formative experience in Washington was an unwritten bipartisan consensus through nine successive presidencies on how to deal with the Soviet Union through a policy of containment. There were huge disagreements over tactics" but "there was broad bipartisan agreement."

He was speaking about the Iraq occupation, scratching his head why the Democrats refuse to be "bipartisan" in supporting Bush's demand to keep American forces in Iraq. In other words, if the Democrats don't give Bush everything he wants to continue, in perpetuity, the occupation then they are not being "bipartisan."

Of course the supplicants of the Pentagon press corps missed the fact that Gates had voiced one of the most misinformed and outrageous historical analogies ever to enter a primate's neo-cortex. He doesn't seriously entertain the idea that the occupation of Iraq and the "war on terrorism" are analogous to the Cold War. Gates belched this nonsense because it is expedient and keeps the United States in a perpetual state of war. This condition allows his boss to grab ever more executive power, shovel obscene amounts of the public's treasury to his friends in the "military industrial complex," and use violence to enforce the prerogatives of the American Empire.

Gates continued: "It's important to defend this country on the extremists' 10-yard line, and not on our 10-yard line. That has big implications in terms of how our forces are deployed, the kind of forces we buy, the kinds of relationships we have internationally because it means we're over there trying to deal with the problem, not over here."

This kind of gibberish makes Donald Rumsfeld look good.

Gates is so detached from the carnage in Iraq that he feels it appropriate to make sports analogies. Football games are normally played in 15-minute quarters. When the time is up, the ref fires his pistol, the cheerleaders put away their pom-poms, and the beer-swilling spectators saunter out of the stadium to await the next tussle for gridiron glory. But in Iraq: When is the "big game" over? Where is the "10-yard line?" Who is the other "team?"

On February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations that Abu Musab al Zarqawi was the crucial link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The UN weapons inspectors were proving daily that there were no WMDs in Iraq so Powell had to pump up the Saddam-al Qaeda connection. In doing so, he created an international hero out of Zarqawi in jihadist circles who was until then a little known entity. Loretta Napoleoni writes in Insurgent Iraq: "The decision to use al Zarqawi to justify military intervention in Iraq, provided radical young Muslims with a focus for their desire to confront America. The Americans themselves transformed a minor jihadist leader into a figure of global importance." (p. 122)

Napoleoni argues that by inflating the terrorist threat in order to spread fear and pursue craven political and geopolitical goals, the major players in the Bush Administration strengthened the enemy they claimed to be fighting. "Thus, rather than speak of al Qaeda today," she writes, "we should speak of 'al Qaedism,' a militant, new, anti-imperialist doctrine that calls for direct violent confrontation with the West, and preaches violence against civilians because, as civilians of democratic states, they are responsible for the policies of their leaders." (p. 214) Anyone remember the 2004 elections?

Robert Gates' retrograde worldview shows us the choice we face as a nation. Either we spin off our imperial holdings around the world to save our republic from bankruptcy or worse, along the lines of the British Empire in the decades after World War Two, (albeit after wars in Kenya, Malaysia, and elsewhere). Or we follow the path of ancient Rome and sacrifice our republic to hold on to the Empire. It was easier for Britain to bequeath its holdings to U.S. hegemony because after the war Pax Americana was poised to supplant it. The future we face is far more complex. The current global reach of the United States is unsustainable, and there is no other nation in a position to pick up the pieces.