( Nat collaborated with his son, Nick Hentoff, on this week's column.)
Robert Gates, the former secretary of defense and director of the CIA, criticized Donald Trump's lack of discipline and judgment during an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
Trump appeared on "Morning Joe" the next day to address Gates' criticism and rejected co-host Mika Brzezinski's claim that "Bob Gates is one of the greatest foreign policy minds in history."
"All of these guys have a great reputation," Trump responded. "They've been doing this stuff for 15 years (and) look where our country is, OK? We need a new group with better thinking."
On Wednesday, the "Morning Joe" crew circled the wagons around Gates' reputation and devoted an entire segment to the defense of his legacy.
"I don't think that there has been a more highly regarded public servant in the last 15, 20 years than Bob Gates," said panel member Tom Brokaw.
"Undisputable," Brzezinski chimed in.
"He (Gates) tells it as he sees it," Brokaw added.
Co-host Joe Scarborough was even more effusive in his praise of Gates. He became almost apoplectic at the idea that someone as low-information as Trump would malign Gates' long record of public service.
"We always complain that there are no longer any giants roaming the earth in Washington, D.C. -- any wise men or wise women -- Bob Gates is one of those," Scarborough gushed.
Scarborough urged his viewers to "dig into what Bob Gates has done." He then launched into a tirade about Trump's willful ignorance: "Donald Trump knows nothing about his (Gates') history. He just shoots off at his mouth about Bob Gates. If he read books, he wouldn't have said what he said about Robert Gates."
Trump isn't the only one who should read a few books to better understand Robert Gates' role in some of the biggest foreign policy scandals and failures in American history.
Anyone interested in the facts should read the Robert Gates File on George Washington University's National Security Archive website. The archive contains original source documents from the Iran-Contra scandal, transcripts of Gates' 1991 CIA confirmation hearings and excerpts from John Prados' book "Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA."
The Iran-Contra scandal resulted in the indictment of 14 Reagan administration officials for their involvement in or cover-up of a plan to fund an insurgency against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua with proceeds from illegal arms sales to Iran. Although Gates narrowly avoided indictment for his role in the incident, he was forced to withdraw from his 1987 nomination as the director of the CIA.
At least Scarborough has the excuse of being preoccupied with law school as the Iran-Contra scandal unfolded in the press and on the evening news in the late 1980s. Brokaw, the onetime anchor of the "NBC Nightly News," reported on Iran-Contra, Gates' 1991 confirmation hearings and the release of the independent counsel's 1994 Iran-Contra report. In a 2013 appearance on MSNBC's "The Cycle," Brokaw boasted of covering Iran-Contra, which he described as "a pretty big damn scandal."
Brokaw was anchoring the "Nightly News" in September 1991 when Andrea Mitchell reported daily on Gates' contentious confirmation hearings, including the testimony of CIA officers who alleged that Gates knew about and helped conceal the sale of missiles to Iran and the diversion of funds to support the Nicaraguan contras. And Brokaw was the anchor when Mitchell reported the testimony of CIA analysts, who said Gates ordered them to alter intelligence threat assessments to justify the Reagan administration's massive arms buildup at a time when the Soviet Union was crumbling.
Brokaw also anchored the "NBC Nightly News" on Jan. 18, 1994, when correspondent Pete Williams covered the release of independent counsel Lawrence Walsh's Iran-Contra report, which devoted an entire chapter to Gates' involvement in the scandal. It concluded that "the statements of Gates often seemed scripted and less than candid."
Later, in his book "Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up," Walsh said that he "disbelieved Gates' testimony."
Far from being considered one of the greatest foreign policy minds in history, the National Security Archive's website argues: "As Director of Central Intelligence in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, Gates faced criticism for moving slowly with reforming the agency for the new era, and thus missing a moment of extraordinary opportunity that occurred at that time."
In "The Wars Robert Gates Got Wrong," a 2014 New Yorker review of Gates' memoir, Jonathan Alter observed that Gates' assessment of Vice President Joe Biden -- that he was "'wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades' ... applies rather precisely to Gates himself."
Gates can also be "credited" with being the architect of the pilotless drone assassination program adopted by George W. Bush and expanded by Barack Obama. It marked the end of a long career of public service distinguished by a fundamental lack of respect for the rule of law.
Hindsight is usually 20-20. That is, unless you insist on being willfully blind to historical facts; like the whitewash crew at "Morning Joe."