Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Michael Gerson's Mancrush on Robert Gates

Some people just can't hide their mancrushes, can they? We've seen the media's mancrush for Senator John McCain, and now we see evidence that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has a huge fan in Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.

Gerson tries to rewrite the history of the Walter Reed scandal into a mash note to Gates:

When he was told that some in the Army were dismissive of press reports on the mistreatment of patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, according to one witness, grew "very, very quiet." Within two weeks, the Walter Reed commander was out of a job.

This kind of decisive silence has been employed by Gates to good effect in scandals ranging from misdirected nuclear parts to the cremation of fallen American soldiers and pets at the same facility.

To those who know this Eagle Scout with 28 years of experience in government, his subdued efficiency is not surprising. To those of us who haven't had the pleasure, his transformational ambitions and strategic boldness are surprising indeed.

Decisive? It took him almost two weeks to get rid of an incompetent General? In the middle of a war, the Secretary of Defense has to wait that long to make a basic decision on who is in charge of one of the major facilities that treats and cares for wounded soldiers? We're not talking about who's in charge of the motor pool on Fort Sill. We're talking about a facility that is just across town from the Pentagon. And his solution was to simply move that same General to another command?

The commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center was fired yesterday after the Army said it had lost trust and confidence in his leadership in the wake of a scandal over outpatient treatment of wounded troops at the Northwest Washington hospital complex.

Army Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who assumed command of Walter Reed in August, will be temporarily replaced by Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley. But the appointment of Kiley, who had earlier been the facility's commander, surprised some Defense Department officials because soldiers, their families and veterans' advocates have complained that he had long been aware of problems at Walter Reed and did nothing to improve its outpatient care.

The action came 10 days after a Washington Post series exposed the squalid living conditions for some outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed and bureaucratic problems that prevented many from getting the care they need.

"The care and welfare of our wounded men and women in uniform demand the highest standard of excellence and commitment that we can muster as a government," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in a statement. "When this standard is not met, I will insist on swift and direct corrective action and, where appropriate, accountability up the chain of command."

A senior Defense Department official said Gates had demanded quick action to show that the Pentagon was serious about improvements at Walter Reed. But the official said that Gates was not involved in the appointment of Kiley.

That's not decisive. That's incomprehensible. Weightman went from commanding Walter Reed, a small Army post northwest of Washington DC to commanding Fort Detrick, a much larger Army post...northwest of Washington DC. And, when you think about it, how much sense did it make to take Walter Reed away from Weightman and give him command of Fort Detrick?

The mission of the U.S. Army Garrison and Fort Detrick is to Command, operate and administer the use of resources to provide installation support to on-post Department of Defense and non-Department of Defense tenant organizations; and to furnish automated data processing, financial management and logistical support as directed to selected Headquarters, Department of the Army staff and field operating agencies.

Major tenants located on Fort Detrick are the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, 21st Signal Brigade, and the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency.

Fort Detrick serves four Cabinet-Level agencies, which include: The Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of Agriculture and Department of Human Services. Fort Detrick's DoD support also includes elements of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Beyond that, Fort Detrick supports several Unified and Major Army Commands: Unified U.S. Army Forces Command, U.S. Army Space Command, U.S. Army Information Systems Command, and U.S. Army Health Services Command.

Fort Detrick today is a U.S. Army Medical Command installation supporting a multi-agency community. Approximately 5,800 military, federal, and contractor personnel are assigned there. They conduct biomedical research and development, medical materiel management, and defense communications. Each of the military services is represented. The Commanding General, U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC), is the installation commander.


As the Department of Defense's lead laboratory for medical biological defense, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases conducts basic research leading to the development of vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and information to protect U.S. service members from biological warfare threats. The institute is a world-renowned reference laboratory for definitive identification of biological threat agents and diagnosis of the diseases they produce.

And, like any good corporate leader, the guy brought in to clean up the mess created by the demonstrably incompetent guy who was kicked upstairs to run a biological warfare program turns out to have been exactly the wrong guy.

Oh, and one more thing--that "decisive" decision by Gates? How'd that work out?

Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley has lost his job as Army surgeon general, another casualty of the care scandal at Walter Reed Medical Center.

Acting Army Secretary Pete Geren asked for Kiley's resignation, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates approved the action, a senior Pentagon official said.

In its official announcement, the Army said Kiley had requested retirement.

Kiley had been made temporary head of Walter Reed, the Army's top hospital, after Army Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman was ousted in the wake of a series in The Washington Post that found soldiers living in deplorable conditions.

However, he was quickly replaced by Gen. Eric Schoomaker amid criticism that Kiley, who was head of Walter Reed from 2000 to 2004, had been aware of the problems at the facility.

That's decisive leadership? Ten days after the problems were exposed, Gates fired Weightman and either did or didn't have anything to do with the decision that installed Kiley. Ten days after that, Gates fired Kiley. Weightman got a promotion, if you consider being sent from Walter Reed to Fort Detrick a promotion.

Does Michael Gerson have an editor? An editor who actually reads the Washington Post? Did it escape Gerson and his editor's attention that the Washington Post actually won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Walter Reed scandal?

Apparently, it did.

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