I expect I’ll take some hits for this one, but it’s an honest conclusion that I’ve held for months. Nothing has changed my mind and I don’t think anything will. The only complaints are political, and I’m fighting for policy here.
Robert Gates, our current Secretary of Defense, is a foreign policy realist. What this means is that he frames the whole of international relations as a question of what’s actually going on and what can this country actually accomplish. We have interests, and those interests must be secured. This will mean doing business with bad people in bad places, from time to time. Remember, Gates is one of Bush 41’s people, and he was brought in to clean up W’s mess. Gates did NOT want the job, and had turned down a prior appointment by President Bush just the year before. He rather liked Texas A&M.
Bob Gates has been an incredible improvement over his predecessor. I want to be clear about this, folks. Gates has done his job better than I thought anybody, even Superman, could have. He hasn’t won the wars or brought us all cotton candy or anything, but he has competently run the Defense Department and has managed to take on the top Air Force brass. He’s been very credible.
I’ve got several friends and relatives in uniform. Without exception, every single one of them wants Obama to keep Gates on awhile (though not indefinitely). Almost every one of those folks I’ve consulted is a Democrat. Gates has been taking pretty good care of his people, and that counts for a lot in my eyes.
A buddy of mine is working on his doctorate in some kind of medical engineering at Texas A&M. While Gates was president of A&M he stopped by my friend’s lab. He chatted with my friend for a few minutes, and my friend says that Gates comes across as a very level-headed and intelligent man. Moreover, Gates seems to know what he doesn’t know, and he asks very good questions. He also listens to the answers.
Continuity matters in wartime. Our folks in uniform spent most of the last seven years under Secretary Rumsfeld, a man of some positive qualities and accomplishments in the job (his focus on a leaner, faster, more mobile force was helpful in certain aspects of the early phases in both Afghanistan and Iraq), but the man basically browbeat the Pentagon into submission. Rumsfeld set out to remake the .mil in his own image. He had some success, and that success lead to our failures. That man couldn’t plan the postwar, and showed little inclination to have anyone else do it. Rumsfeld cost American soldiers (to say nothing of Iraqis) their lives.
The point is that the military, the actual rank and file, think very highly of Gates as far as I can tell. He’s not an ideologue (as pertains to how he does his job, I’m not referring to his personal politics). He’s taken on the top guys at the Air Force, which frankly needed to happen. The Air Force accidentally sent nuclear weapon parts to Taiwan, who absolutely did NOT want them (kinda pissed off the Chinese!) and have had other issues as well. Gates has been a superb Secretary of Defense, and he’s done this under the worst president in living memory.
I contend that President Obama should keep Gates on as Secretary for perhaps a year, with his current deputy being replaced by Gates’ eventual successor, whom Gates would bring up to speed during that caretaker period. Let’s face it, there is some reluctance by many in the military to trust a liberal Democrat as president. I think keeping Gates on would do one hell of a lot to smooth over the transition, to say nothing of the fact that he’s doing a good job.
Many of you will likely oppose this because leaving a Republican in the cabinet, especially as SecDef, could be seen as sending the message that the Democrats aren’t credible on defense issues. So be it. I don’t think we should put politics ahead of policy when it comes to warfighting. This wouldn’t just be a token of bipartisanship, nor would it be simply saying “Putting Country First.” If President Obama does this, he will be putting country first. I’ve got too many friends and family in uniform to accept anything less.