First Junior took over the house with grandiose plans to remodel it and make it the envy of the neighborhood. But then he played with matches and set the house on fire. So now he's frantically trying to stop the flames from torching the whole block.
Mr. Gates asserted that if America left Iraq in chaos, Iran and Syria could encroach more, and Turkey and Saudi Arabia might jump in to stop the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis by Shiites. "We're already seeing Hezbollah involved in training fighters for Iraq," he said. "I think all of that could spread fairly dramatically."
It was the sort of realistic assessment that never came from Rummy, except when he privately admitted in a classified Nov. 6 memo that their Iraq strategy was "not working well enough or fast enough," offering a silly hodgepodge of wildly tardy or dubious options, like telling the Iraqis to "pull up their socks."
So with the Pentagon deciding whether to Go Big, Go Long or Go Home, Rummy urged the White House to Go Minimalist and simply streamline the spin.
Junior took the advice to manage perceptions by minimizing Rummy two days after he sent the memo. [...]
The old criticisms of whether Mr. Gates massaged intelligence were forgotten; the senators would have embraced an ax-murderer if he had seemed sensible about Iraq.
There was no blathering yesterday about "known unknowns" or "Henny Penny" pessimists. The soft-spoken, vanilla Mr. Gates offered a sharp contrast from the finger-wagging, flavorful Rummy. In a remarkable shift from the mindless bellicosity and jingoism of the last few years, Mr. Gates said he did not favor military action against Iran or Syria.
After lunch the nominee clarified his remarks, saying he had not meant to criticize the troops, that the reversals in Iraq were not their fault. They don't lose battles in Iraq because there are no battles. There's just a counterinsurgency that they can't see and that they weren't prepared or equipped to fight.
Gates hasn't even sat in his office chair yet, and already he's light-years ahead of Rumsfeld, in perception at least.
It remains to be seen, of course, what he can and/or will do, or more correctly, what he will be allowed to do.