The Pros And Cons Of Keeping Gates On At Defense

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.

Tags: Barack Obama, robert gates, Secretary of Defense (all tags)

Comments

38 Comments

Re: The Pros And Cons Of Keeping Gates

I like Gates. And, like Obama, I think there is merit in the H.W. Bush/Baker/Scowcroft/Powell "realist" school of US foreign policy.

My only concern was that Gates allegedly has some Neocon aides. I read today that Gates and Team Obama have been going back and forth on his assistants, and I assume the discussions are specifically centered on those aides.

by Bush Bites 2008-11-25 02:56PM | 0 recs
Gates will give Obama cover

to remove troops from Iraq.

I like Gates hanging around for a year.  

by puma 2008-11-25 03:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Gates will give Obama cover

He will give Obama cover to stay in Iraq forever or as long as Exxon-Mobil can suck oil out of there.

Combined with the announcement this morning of Paul Volcker moving into the White House, the message is clear. No matter who you vote for, the only chnage you will see is more moves to the right.

by antiHyde 2008-11-26 04:35AM | 0 recs
I don't like it on several levels

Why is Obama reinforcing the Republican talking point that only Republicans can be trusted on defense and national security? Dumb.

I also question whether Obama will keep his promise to withdraw most of our troops over a 16-month period if he keeps Gates on. Presumably the man Bush trusted to implement his Iraq policy is not going to advise Obama to stick to his campaign promise.

by desmoinesdem 2008-11-25 03:26PM | 0 recs
anyone heard from Samantha Power lately?

Is Obama really going to freeze her out?

by desmoinesdem 2008-11-25 03:27PM | 0 recs
Re: anyone heard from Samantha Power lately?

Good question. I haven't heard any updates on that either.

by markjay 2008-11-25 03:32PM | 0 recs
Newsflash

Obama froze Power out when he fired her.

The "monster" comment was just the excuse, Samantha Power had served her purpose for Obama by May. He was well into his pivot to the center on foreign policy at that point in the primary, he had already won the "younger generation" foreign policy set Yglesias and Ackerman talk to.

by souvarine 2008-11-25 05:25PM | 0 recs
NEWSFLASH!!!11

Power resigned in March, not May.

by JJE 2008-11-25 06:35PM | 0 recs
Re: NEWSFLASH!!!11

Whoops.

by Jess81 2008-11-30 03:57AM | 0 recs
monster comment was not the problem - her

commenting that he would not stand firm on his promise  to take the troops out was!

by suzieg 2008-11-26 12:14AM | 0 recs
Re: anyone heard from Samantha Power lately?

she's around, doing what the best Obama advisers do: give good advice while keeping a low profile.

by Beomoose 2008-11-25 05:25PM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons

Good for Obama. I expect Gates will be kept for a couple of years.  Wesley Clark become eligible to serve as Secretary of Defense in 2010.  That would be a great time for a transition.

by markjay 2008-11-25 03:29PM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons

Totally agree.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-11-25 07:32PM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons

Totally disagree. By then the war In Iran (sic) will be in full swing and Gates will stay.

It's a battle for oil. Obama's talk of energy independence is just that - talk, to get your vote.
The Evil Empire (US!) is going to occupy the Middle East until all the oil is gone.

Obama is just another lying politician. No wonder he supported Lieberman. Lieberman is the kind of Democrat he likes and is.

Is he appointing ONE progressive in any important post? This morning CNBC announced that Paul Volcker, the man who broke the back of the Middle Class with double digit interest rates is moving into the White House as an advisor. A Republican for Defense, a Republican for Treasury, Joe Lieberman for Homeland Security Chairman, another hard right Republican as Economics Advisor.  This is not even Clinton III. It is Bush III.

by antiHyde 2008-11-26 04:44AM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons...
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.

Honestly, I don't get all the hand-wringing about this. Here's what we know Obama is going to do based on his moves so far (not to mention his campaign promises):

  • Pass the biggest public works program since the New Deal
  • Go big on green jobs
  • Push hard for universal health care
  • Get us out of Iraq

Even if he does all this and nothing more, he will have accomplished more for the progressive agenda than anyone since at least Johnson. This is huge stuff. Beyond that, all of this reading of tea leaves (or pig entrails) regarding what he might or might not do is mostly a pointless waste of energy. If he does bad stuff, I'm ready to make noise about it. But until he does bad stuff, we all should chill a bit.

by Zeppo 2008-11-25 03:30PM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons...

And the congregation said Amen!

Too much "analysis paralysis" going on.  Inherent in that analysis is that any appointments ideological slant is automatically how they will do their jobs and completely negates the fact that they are, in the end, a subordinate of Obama and his agenda.

The real question isn't whether Obamas appointments are "center", "center-right", "left", etc, it's "can they take orders"?

by tlhwraith 2008-11-26 05:17AM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons...

You really think Obama is looking for a bunch of yes-men?

I don't. Sure, he is picking people who are aligned with his ideological slant and with what he sees as the needs of the country, but that doesn't mean these nominees are going to change what they believe to please Obama, it means Obama is more ideologically aligned with them than some people here realized.

by souvarine 2008-11-26 05:51AM | 0 recs
Keeping Gates On At Defense
Having just finished the Woodward book on the Iraq War "The War Within", Gates according to Woodward comes off as a pretty cool headed and very organization man. He certainly had his work cut out when he took over in January,2007 for Rumsfeld. We all know how he had really screwed up the DOD. Woodward outlines how Gates moved the military to secure Baghdad from the Sunni/Shia militias. He is responsible for winding down the civil war and brought peace to the city.
 I think its a good idea to keep Gates on during this economic crisis. Obama's team doesn't need a new person as new head of the DOD.
by hddun2008 2008-11-25 05:15PM | 0 recs
I'll 2nd That

If the economy was not a big problem and Barack could focus on foreign affairs, then replacing Gates would be a much easier decision. But you can only juggle so many balls at once. And since one of the balls Barack has to juggle is a giant watermelon, having someone who has the demonstrated ability to manage the DoD, who is not an ideologue, and has the respect of both the troops and Congress is someone you want to keep.

You also want continuity as we begin our withdrawal because Iraq is likely to explode. As has been diareid elsewhere, the Kurds are arming and show no sign of wanting to remain part of Iraq, and the reason the Sunnis have been relatively peaceful is because we've been paying for their cooperation.

It could get very ugly. And we need to get out and stay out!

by Bob Miller 2008-11-25 06:37PM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons

My preferred choice, Clark, can't take the office until 2010 so I still hold out hope for him.

The things keeping Gates gives:

-Cover against pushback from the Right or from Trad Media bullshit. Hard to call one of their favorites out for being an Administration Yes-man.

-Support from the military leadership. Gates has support at the puzzle palace, and respect. That's no small thing, and especially given the other problems the President must deal with it's nice to have.

-Capital. He's keeping campaign promises and acting like a guy who really is the person he portrayed in the Campaign.

Sound like a good deal for a year+. Sure, in an ideal world he's not high on my list of choices but I'm not the one in the office. When Gates does step down and retire, the choice of who replaces him will be very important and we should really push hard for a progressive like Clark.

by Beomoose 2008-11-25 05:49PM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons Of Keeping Gates On At Defen

Lets take a walk down memory lane and Gates's history at the CIA under addled ronnie and poppa.
First he successfully buried information on Iran/Contra and though being in the middle of it and knowing all the players he managed to skate. remember Iran/Contra and act of treason where contrary to the direct language of the Constitution gates and company conspired to create an independent funding source inside the executive branch.

Lets not forget how as the head of the CIA he kept fabricating dire warnings of the Soviet threat, even as it was collapsing, to justify inflating the waste at the defense department that enriched the rethuglican paymasters feeding at that trough.

Even as the Berlin wall was being torn down he was obeying orders and still warning of the Soviet military.

Don't forget how the CIA under his leadership kept testifying that the licenses for dual use equipment were needed by Iraq under Saddam. Even as the tanks were rolling into Kuwait city Gates CIA missed the invasion and was sending "experts" to the hill to testify how Saddam needed that heavy equipment.

His willingness to politicalize every government agency he was at to benefit his political masters is the obvious reason he served well under this criminal administration.

Now Obama is going to keep this Quisling in a crucial position.
I remember the story of the Scorpion and the Frog.
Remember treason in service of his rethuglican masters is his nature.

+++++++++++++
A scorpion asks a frog for help crossing a river. Intimidated by the scorpion's prominent stinger, the frog demurs.

``Don't be scared,'' the scorpion says. ``If something happens to you, I'll drown.'' Moved by this logic, the frog puts the scorpion on his back and wades into the river. Half way across, the scorpion stings the frog.

The dying frog croaks, ``How could you -- you know that you'll drown?''

``It's my nature,'' gasps the sinking scorpion.

by Rational 2008-11-25 05:50PM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons Of Keeping Gates On At Defen
And now he won't be doing that for Ronnie and Poppa, but one of your guys.
You're right, Gates came into the Pentagon with a reputation as a suck-up, but look at who he has to suck up to now.
by spirowasright 2008-11-26 06:54AM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons Of Keeping Gates On At Defen

He is a bought and paid for rethuglican operative.
He only sucks up to his rethuglican puppet masters. He will do anything in his power to bring down a Democratic administration.

Stupid to keep scum like him in administration.

by Rational 2008-11-26 09:11AM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons Of Keeping Gates On At Defen

I have the sinking feeling that I am going to be very very sick of the phrase "Obama promised us change" before long.

Comparing Obama's every action to whether it is "changey" enough seems counterproductive.

I cheered for changes in policy, but I really cheered for a change to competent leadership. Nothing that Obama has done so far has made me doubt his competence.

by deenk 2008-11-25 05:57PM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons Of Keeping Gates On At Defen

You liked his playing dead during the Bush bailout proposal? he had  a chance to convert words into action by actually having his team say what is not adequate in it. They kept their mouths shut for the most part. And now we have Bush setting fire to our taxmoney with the help of mute Democrats.

I loved OBama's views on exec salaries. But what good is that unless he is going to do something about it? You can't guilttrip thieves into not stealing more money from their companies.

by Pravin 2008-11-26 05:42AM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons Of Keeping Gates On

Sure seems like more imitatio Clintonis.

by killjoy 2008-11-25 07:26PM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons Of Keeping Gates On

Clinton kept on Casper Weinberger?  Who knew?

by Jess81 2008-11-30 04:02AM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons Of Keeping Gates On At Defen

I have no problem with Gates for many of the reasons already stated above, as well as an enduring gratitude based on the strong assumption that under the specific framework of the National Control Authority he refused to authorise a nuclear strike on Iran sometime around February 2007.  'Just another day in the Gulf,' he said, if you will remember.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-11-25 07:40PM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons Of Keeping Gates On At Defen

Please does no one look further back then 8 months?

Gates supported illegal and traitorous action under addled ronnie - Iran/Contra

Gates while head of the CIA politicalized the US intelligence apparatus to serve partisan political motive and fabricated false intelligence evaulations to promote those partisan ends.

Please does no one look further back then 8 months?

Gates supported illegal and traitorous action under addled ronnie

Gates while head of the CIA missed the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Gates supported selling Saddam weapons and technology literally until tanks were rolling through Kuwait.

These are facts that no one deny's just ignores. Being better then Rumsfield is a very low standard to measure some one against.

He has been a partisan political hack through out his career and I do not understand why people think he is going to change his spots now.

by Rational 2008-11-25 07:52PM | 0 recs
The hypocrisy here does not pass the smell

test.... had he said he would keep Gates on during the primaries, he would not have gotten your votes! This was the major argument  against Clinton!

by suzieg 2008-11-26 12:16AM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons Of Keeping Gates

For me the key thing is not Gates but if there is going to be some overhaul in getting rid of the people who took us into the idiotic war. Gates wasn't the problem, but there were many Bushies who served under Gates. Will Gates be carrying all of them forward?

Oh by the way, this is why I hated the Lieberman move. We have plenty of opportunities to look bipartisan such as the Gates pick. There was no need to accomodate that moron.

I don't have a problem with this pick as long as Obama has the guts to impose his will and call any holdovers on any bullshit. That is the question Obama must answer.

Then again, I have no problem with those opposing the pick. Obama has to feel some pressure to bring about change. And that can only come about if he feels pressure on any status quo picks, even if they are not bad ones.

by Pravin 2008-11-25 10:01PM | 0 recs
I think it is a good move

A poor transition in defense and the withdrawal from Iraq could sink the Obama administration.  The economy is out of control.  This situation isn't, but it needs good leadership.  In my opinion, Gates is the best cabinet secretary Bush has.  That's damning with faint praise, for sure.  

To me, the transition so far has been pretty flawless - like the campaign.

by MDMan 2008-11-26 01:26AM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros Of Keeping Gates

I remember during the Clinton years, the right was rooting for a major defense blunder.

They mocked him when he bombed Bin Laden, when he took on Iraq, Serbia etc.

They always said Clinton brought down the millitary, keeping Gates will not shield him from their criticism but could help.

by rolnitzky 2008-11-26 04:21AM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros Of Keeping Gates

THat is the Democrats problem. Always being wimpy worrying about what the right thinks.

You make the picks you want - period. Regardless of ideology. While I am no lefty, it does bother me Obama is playing it too safe with too many holdovers from Clinton and Bush. Playing it that safe works if everything was in great shape. But there is a lot of work to do. Some risks need to be taken.

Clinton was a good President, but the dotcom bubble was going to burst with Clinton or no Clinton. There were some serious troubling trends with executive abuses going on even during the Clinton years. It just got blown up during Bush. All Bush did was accelerate the rot in that area. A lot of the Clintonites have been more concerned with shoring up their power base and making lots of money thanks to their access to government instead of using what they gained in government to do some serious social service.

by Pravin 2008-11-26 04:56AM | 0 recs
Revising my thoughts on this

You know what? For the past few years, we have been promised the war is near the end. There is always going to be a fucking transition.

If Gates is really the best man for the job, so be it. But that does damn the Democratic Party. That means there isn't a single other person they could find that could handle the job?

Sure, we need Gates for a transition. THAT IS WHAT THE NEXT FEW MONTHS ARE FOR! Select your candidate and have him go through some serious prep for the next few weeks. Unless Gates resigns, Gates will be in for the entire term. Do not even fantasize that Gates will be asked to step down after a year or two. That is just a little more likely than Lieberman being stripped of his chairmanship for bad performance.

Gates had to dive in when Rumsfeld resigned. Did he need a transition????? We keep falling for this republican nonsense that by default, their people are the most competent at defense.

People, we WON the fucking election decisively. Select the best fucking people for the new agenda. Remember, I did not say just the best people. We need people on board for whatever agenda Obama wants to push. Last time I checked, he wont the elction because he promised major CHANGE. If he is really that serious about FIGHTING for his point of view instead of settling for what "looks mature", he will make changes without worrying about the DC establishment thoughts.

If Gates is a real patriot, I am sure he will extend his cooperation in a role as a special advisor to the new Secretary of Defense. As his boy McCain said, COUNTRY FIRST, mofos.

by Pravin 2008-11-26 05:37AM | 0 recs
I don't see it as a problem

I like this move.  Rumsfeld was a central part of the problem.  Gates has been part of the solution.  

There are a metric fuckton of economic matters to deal with right now.  I just don't see Gates as part of the Rumsfeld-Cheney bloc, and with the sheer volume of crises, keeping an established leader on board at Defense who has spent the better part of two years trying to solve the mess of the prior six years seems pragmatic.

by Dreorg 2008-11-26 06:05AM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons

Obama using the after glow of the election to make moves that his supporters would have down right scoffed at 3 months ago.   They had a crystal ball three months and saw these things happening many would have puked.  If they saw them 11 months ago he wouldn't have been nominated.

But now most are too busy celebrating to care.

Add to this the "honeymoon" he will get once in office and it will be another 18 months before his supporters on the left realize that Obama is governing as a centrist, corporate Democrat, who is going to triangulate his way to sky high approval ratings.

I doubt they will really care even then.  Some will.  Most won't.  Politics is like sport today.   You root for your team no matter what.

by RichardFlatts 2008-11-26 06:51AM | 0 recs
Re: The Pros And Cons

Huh.

You must have missed all the "Obama is a centrist" diaries.

by Jess81 2008-11-30 04:01AM | 0 recs

Diaries

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