In these deeply disturbing times, when the global economy seems out of control, there is a small piece of good news.
Richard Danzig, a former Navy secretary and one of Barack Obama's top advisers, hinted last week that a President Obama might ask Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to remain on the job.
Danzig said he hadn't discussed the choice with Obama, although many of Gates' policies were "things that Senator Obama agrees with." But the Democratic candidate would be wise to make it clear that he wants Gates, too.
In these crazy times, when our foreign policy is in deep trouble, the public needs to know - preferably before the election - what kind of team the next president will build.
We need reassurance that the 44th president will choose and listen to experienced advisers with the courage to speak frankly, and that he will design policies based on reality, not wishful thinking. We need to know there will be calm, sensible figures in top posts at a time when the world seems off its axis.
Bob Gates fits that job description to a tee. He has made great strides in digging the Defense Department out of the mess Donald Rumsfeld made. A man without a hint of flamboyance, he also has proved he can work across the aisle - he has served six presidents from both parties, including as CIA director.
In a town where no one seems ready to take responsibility for anything, Gates has started to restore accountability to the Defense Department. He fired officials responsible for letting wounded veterans live in horrid conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He also dismissed top Air Force officials after the service mishandled nuclear weapons.
Gates helped revise the foundering Bush policy in Iraq, and he has called for increased forces in Afghanistan and an expansion of the Afghan army.
In a series of thoughtful speeches about future U.S. global strategy, he also extolled the use of "soft power" - nonmilitary sources of influence. Gates recognizes that development aid, nation-building and diplomacy are as key to our foreign policy as military muscle. And he recognizes that successful policy must integrate soft and hard power. He even called for expansion of the U.S. foreign service, which is amazing for a defense secretary.
He often talks about balance, about finding a sane middle ground "between a too-eager embrace of the use of military force and an extreme aversion to it."
Balance. What a relief to hear that word after seven years of Bush and Vice President Cheney, for whom the pre-emptive use of force has been a mantra.
How refreshing to have a realist in this key post who recognizes that the nation must use force sometimes, but judiciously. Gates bluntly warns that war with Iran could be catastrophic. His straight talk has often made him seem like the only grown-up on the Bush team.
Given what he'll face from Day One, the next president will need talented, experienced realists around him from the get-go. An early nod to Gates could reassure Americans who worry that Obama has insufficient experience on security matters. It would indicate that he would be willing, despite a bruising campaign, to take a bipartisan approach to policy.
And the selection of Gates would provide an important element of continuity in policymaking on Afghanistan and Iraq. True, Gates disagrees with Obama about setting a 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, but his choice would indicate the Democratic candidate was open to other opinions. (Anyway, I believe Obama will need to adjust his 16-month policy if elected.)
Should John McCain be elected, he also could reassure voters by keeping Gates. During the campaign, McCain has appeared erratic and rash with moves such as his choice of the woefully underqualified Sarah Palin and his threat to cancel the first debate. The Republican candidate describes himself as a "realist idealist," but his positions and his choice of key advisers indicate he still seems to believe we can remake the world in our image.
America can't afford such illusions at this particular moment in history. This is a time to focus on essential priorities and avoid blind alleys. Robert Gates knows that.
The biggest question mark about Gates is whether he would agree to stay on under the next president. He's made it clear he's counting the days until he can leave Washington. We can only hope that, if asked forcefully enough, he would continue to serve.