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Archive for Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Gates’ retention

December 3, 2008

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Robert M. Gates was called from his post as president of Texas A&M University two years ago to become U.S. secretary of defense. The rancorous Donald Rumsfeld had become emotionally overextended and was something of a one-trick pony as Pentagon chief. President George W. Bush had good reason to believe Gates would do far better in the job.

Gates has done a good job, and there are positive signs in President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to carry him into his administration. The Pentagon boss is a good friend of the Bush family. He was interim dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at A&M and took over as school president in 2002. But he seems quite able to “cross the aisle,” politically speaking.

Gates was reluctant to leave his College Station assignment but has done much to restore public trust and confidence in the Defense Department in a relatively short time. He did so well, in fact, that Obama asked him to stay, for at least one year. This marks the first time a Pentagon chief has been carried over from a president of a different party. Though a Republican, Gates reportedly has great respect and trust among Democrats.

Secretary Gates rose through the ranks to become CIA director under President George H.W. Bush. He also served on his National Security Council as he had done for presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Now 65, he helped lead U.S. efforts to drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan in the 1980s. He was deputy national security adviser during Operation Desert Storm, the first U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

During his brief tenure, Gates has fired the Army and Air Force secretaries as well as the Air Force chief of staff for bad performance. Things got better.

He supported the Iraq war and the military buildup there but he has endorsed new efforts to draw down forces in Iraq and bolster troop numbers in Afghanistan. Obama embraces such a strategy.

It could be that Gates will fit in so well with the new administration that his time on the job will be extended further. Obama wants him now and might want him even more a year from now.

Obama’s explanation: “When it comes to war and peace, maybe wisdom is better.” It seems he will have the benefit of the wisdom and experience of the highly regarded Robert Gates. In view of current developments and past errors in judgment, this looks like an excellent appointment.

It also shows the patriotism of Gates that he is willing to stay in this vital position even though it is known he had been looking forward to returning to the presidency at Texas A&M. His country comes first.

Comments

jaywalker 5 years, 10 months ago

I don't question Gates' patriotism, but I'd like to hope that those requested to serve the country at the pleasure of the President do so with little thought for anything other than their family or health. In positions with such importance, selflessness is more than a virtue.

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Rex Russell 5 years, 10 months ago

I think the differences between Bush and Obama can be aptly displayed here. Bush hired Rumsfeld first and kept him exceedingly too long. Rumsfeld was too political, unbending, slightly irrational at times, and ill suited for the task during the war. Bush got it right the second time around. Bright, non-political, and experienced, Gates is handling things very well. Obama is smart to ask him to continue. Bush got it right the second time around. Obama got it right the first time around with the same guy. This illuminates his wish to have the best person in the job regardless of their party affiliation. It's a wonderful start and a welcomed change.

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Jason Bailey 5 years, 10 months ago

rrussell wrote:"It's a wonderful start and a welcomed change."I agree it's a wonderful start but this is hardly "change". Perhaps you mean change from Rumsfeld and Gates?Your point about Obama getting it right the first time around is moot. Anyone can come into an organization and see people who are perfect for the job and do nothing to keep them. That's not getting it right the first time, that's inheriting a great situation.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

"That's not getting it right the first time, that's inheriting a great situation."Are you honestly saying that BushCo is leaving Obama with a "great situation?"

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jaywalker 5 years, 10 months ago

Pay_N :"It also shows the patriotism of Gates that he is willing to stay in this vital position even though it is known he had been looking forward to returning to the presidency at Texas A&M. His country comes first."I was commenting on the above. Basically, I don't believe it shows any 'patriotism' per se, and I believe requests to serve are no-brainers, that's all.On a personal side note, I paid my way as well. More power to ya. It's a grind to be sure, but your sense of accomplishment upon conquering this challenge will pay magnificent dividends in the end. Keep up the hard work!

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jonas_opines 5 years, 10 months ago

"Anyone can come into an organization and see people who are perfect for the job and do nothing to keep them. That's not getting it right the first time, that's inheriting a great situation."It's interesting that you'd say that, as you apparently have to go back to the transition from Reagan to HW Bush to find a cabinet with the same names on it from one administration to the next. (quick search, potentiality of errors) Neither Clinton nor W Bush kept anybody from the previous administration. HW Bush, if I recall, was Reagan's VP, so the retaining (though in different positions) is a little more obvious, I suppose. Maybe Gates is the first competent politician in high office in the last 20 years?

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Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

"in Gates, a veteran Cold Warrior, you have "an establishment figure with the longest institutional involvement in our failed Russia policies of anyone in DC."And with all the talk about the importance of foreign policy experience, why is there so little attention paid to the quality of that experience? (Let's not forget, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had quite a bit of Washington experience.) What we need after eight ruinous years is experience informed by good judgment. What is gained by bringing in people who traffic in conventional wisdom and who have shown the kind of foreign policy timidity that acquiesced to disasters like the Iraq war?Obama may believe that Gates will give him the cover and continuity he needs to carry out his planned withdrawal from Iraq. But so could many others, including Republicans like Chuck Hagel who, at least, opposed the Iraq war. By keeping Gates on Obama worsens the Democratic image on national security -- sending the message that even Democrats agree that Democrats can't run the military. And even more troubling for our future security, Gates has sounded ominous notes about how more U.S. troops can pacify Afghanistan. Speaking only days after a National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the U.S. was caught in a "downward spiral" there, Gates asserted that there is "no reason to be defeatist or underestimate the opportunity to be successful in the long run." Extricating the U.S. from one disastrous war to head into another will drain resources needed to fulfill Obama's hopes and promises for economic growth, health care, energy independence and crowd out other international initiatives.Of course, Obama still has an opportunity to change the mindset that got us into Iraq and, more important, he has a popular mandate to challenge and change failed policies and craft a smarter security policy for this century. But he's sure making his work tougher by bringing people like Robert Gates on board."http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/109298/why_robert_gates_is_a_terrible_pick/

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Rex Russell 5 years, 10 months ago

The change I spoke of is one of attitude. Obama could have easily and immediately replaced Gates. He's a Bush appointee and a Republican, He is also proven, successful and the right man for the job. He was recognized as such and asked to stay. That is what I meant and why it is far from moot. Brown, Gonzales, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rove, et al. These all speak to inneptitude or partisanship above all else. The Obama appointees that have surfaced so far have shown a lack of both of those things. I wasn't a big Obama fan and still am not. I am pleased with the direction of the appointees so far. Competence should the first priority in hiring. That didn't happen in the last administration.

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jaywalker 5 years, 10 months ago

"But so could many others, including Republicans like Chuck Hagel who, at least, opposed the Iraq war. By keeping Gates on Obama worsens the Democratic image on national security — sending the message that even Democrats agree that Democrats can't run the military."I have to disagree with you here, merrill. First, you suggest BO could have selected Hagel, but since he's a Republican you'd still be left with the second part of your point, which is what I have issues with. While neither party is going to go 'halfsies' with admin appointments, the best person for the job is what should be the number one criteria, not party affiliation. I'm not saying Gates is 'the best', but his retention is at the least prudent considering all the balls in the air under that post.And I really don't believe it sends the message you think it does to Dems, at least not the more rational members on the Hill. As I said, it's prudent, he's done an excellent job with the hand he was dealt, and there's the possibility that he actually is the best choice. I'd hope those that can see beyond party lines would take this all in stride. And it goes along with Obama's pledge to foster a bi-partisan atmosphere; I find it a smart move for many reasons, and rrussell outlined one of the major facets in his last post.

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scott3460 5 years, 10 months ago

Most acknowledge Gates has done an admirable job in difficult circumstances. Why not keep up the momentum and close this sorry chapter in our nation's history as best we can. It would have been foolish for Obama to risk the loss of momentum in such a critical task by asking anyone else to come in. Agree that it also gives him some political cover. All in all, another fine decision. Obama is living up to his billing of being a thoughtful, prudent and wise decision maker. Nice change from the last 8 years.

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jaywalker 5 years, 10 months ago

That's the word I was searching for, Scott, 'momentum'. Thank you.

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