The Pros And Cons Of Keeping Gates On At Defense
by Todd Beeton, Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 02:43:03 PM EST
From Political Radar reports that President-elect Obama is expected to keep Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense.
Sources tell ABC News that Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be staying on in the top Pentagon job, for at least the first year of the Obama administration. "It is a done deal" a source close to the process tells ABC News.
Gates, while a registered independent, has served numerous Republican administrations. President George W. Bush nominated Gates to replace the Donald Rumsfeld after the 2006 midterm elections, when the war in Iraq was spiraling out of control.
The official announcement in the coming week is expected to be part of a larger roll-out of President-elect Obama's foreign policy team:
The former Eagle Scout is expected to be rolled out immediately after the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend as part of a larger national security team expected to include Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, as Secretary of State; Marine Gen. Jim Jones (Ret.) as National Security Adviser; Admiral Dennis Blair (Ret.) as Director of National Intelligence; and Dr. Susan Rice as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
There are arguments for and against keeping Gates on, the more compelling I've found are against. Chris Bowers rails against the move over at Open Left:
This should be an open and shut case. If there was one message that Obama ran on loudly, clearly, and indisputably, it is that he was going to bring "change" to Washington, D.C. If Gates were kept on as Secretary of Defense, it apparently would also mean that all of his top advisors would also stay on, and that it all happened because long-time D.C. operatives said it should. Keeping the same guy and all of his advisors at the behest of old establishment types is about as far from change as possible.
Secretary of Defense is the big enchilada. Arguably, due to the vast percentage of federal spending it receives, it is more important than all other cabinet secretaries combined. [...]
Further, keeping Gates on would only worsen Democratic image problems on national security, as he would be the second consecutive non-Democratic Secretary of Defense nominated by a Democratic President. The message would be clear: even Democrats agree that Democrats can't run the military.
Joe Conason, unexpectedly perhaps, takes the pro-Gates position:
First it is important to recall that the president-elect vowed to bring change to politics as well as policy. The Obama administration would foster bipartisan cooperation wherever possible, he said, especially in matters of foreign policy and national security. If those are his objectives, then retaining Mr. Gates makes considerable sense -- at least for the time being.
Of all the possible holdover appointees, the defense secretary has the highest reputation for effectiveness and the lowest potential for conflict with the new president. Unlike the previous occupant, he is respected in Congress and among the military's general staff. Based on his personal history, Gates seems to have a stronger basis for agreement with Mr. Obama than with his current boss on the salient issues of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
Remember that during the months before President Bush asked him to replace Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, Gates was serving on the Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Representative Lee Hamilton. The study group's best-selling report, released only weeks after Mr. Gates resigned to accept the Bush appointment, was strongly critical of the president's failed policies in Iraq.
Conason goes on to argue that in fact Gates and Obama are a better match than it might at first seem.
Upon assuming control of the Pentagon, Gates did his best to subordinate his own opinions to administration policy, working hard to make the best of the troop escalation in Iraq despite personal doubts about the long-term wisdom of the "surge." But he never echoed the Bush administration's official hostility to a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq -- and in fact at one point praised the debate over timetables in Washington as a means of increasing pressure on the Iraqis to achieve reconciliation and security on their own.
That should sound familiar, too, because it is so close to Obama's stated policy.
Another factor at play here is that, because of statements made by then Senator Obama during his campaign, the media is expecting the cabinet to be multi-partisan and is licking their chops to call President-elect Obama out on a broken promise; keeping Gates on will fulfill the promise for the moment.
I'd certainly prefer to see Gates canned as both a very real and a symbolic closing of the door on the Bush years, particularly on foreign policy, but I'm also well aware that Obama is using this transition period and his cabinet appointments to build up goodwill among his critics and the skeptical establishment. As he continues to build upon the significant political capital he collected on November 4th, one of my concerns is at what point after Jan. 20th does he actually intend to spend it. The downside of Robert Gates is tolerable as long as it wins us something much more valuable in the longrun. As of now I'm willing to give President-elect Obama the benefit of the doubt, he's earned it, but my patience is not limitless.