I've been noticing how Andrew Sullivan has been pushing the idea
of Obama, if he wins in November, keeping Bob Gates on as Secretary of Defense. But now I see that Joe Klein's pushing the idea
. And now Noam Scheiber too
So I'm going to be generous and excuse myself for not getting it earlier that Bob Gates must be actively pushing now to hold on to his job.
Now, those who have long memories, or really just medium length memories, will have a certain sense of deja vu
. Gates was the CIA Director at the end of the first Bush administration. And he pretty publicly and aggressively auditioned for keeping the job under Bill Clinton. As it happens, Clinton dropped Gates to appoint Jim Woolsey, surely a contender for one of the worst, perhaps the worst appointment Clinton ever made. (Since leaving the administration in 1995 he's focused primarily on giving Iraq conspiracy theorists a bad name.) So holding on to Bob Gates would have been a far superior choice, if that was the choice.
Let me be clear, I do not have a negative impression of Bob Gates. He's mainly had the unlucky task of picking up after the mess created by Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and President Bush. My sense is that Gates is a pretty sane guy and highly capable foreign policy hand. And that's managed to come through even through the heavily cloaking effect of having to operate within President Bush's inane foreign policies. I don't think I know enough about Gates or the particulars of his administration of the Pentagon -- to the extent that can be distinguished from the necessity of operating under President Bush -- to give any qualified appraisal of him. But certainly he is much more in the Scowcroft, rough-realist school than anything from the Bush mold.
But can we realize that this is simply impossible? I shouldn't say impossible. Obama's surprised me a number of times. And I'm not afraid to say, a number of times where I see in retrospect that he was right and I was wrong.
But consider it from this perspective. If Barack Obama is elected president in November it will be for many reasons. But preeminent among them will be the American people's desire to decisively turn the page on the disastrous foreign policy -- in all its permutations -- of the Bush years, a foreign policy that has been characterized by belligerence and in the most direct sense by war, and one in which the Pentagon has played a dominant role, often at the expense of the Department of State. Elected on those terms, I simply do not see how an incoming President Obama can choose to keep on the man who ran the Pentagon on behalf of President Bush and executed his policies, regardless of the man's qualifications in the abstract. Late Update
: A very knowledgeable DOD watcher I know tells me he's pretty sure Gates doesn't want to stay around past January 2009. I guess he really is a realist.