So far, it appears that Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be the only Republican holdover from the Bush cabinet who will serve with the Obama administration.
I have always considered Gates to be a good and capable person and applaud Obama’s decision to keep him on, especially in a position and in an environment that requires common sense, levelheadedness and that quality that for the past eight years has mistakenly been attributed to you-know-who: gravitas.
Knowing that in 38 days he will be serving a commander in chief with an immensely different philosophy from his present boss, one has to wonder what thoughts, introspection and conflicting considerations must pass through this man’s heart and mind.
One of such “conflicting considerations” is the fact that his present boss has signed a security agreement with the government of Iraq that mandates that the U.S. withdraw all combat troops from that country in three years, while his new boss has pledged to withdraw combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months. There are many other similar issues.
It will be fascinating to, one day, read or hear about Mr. Gates’ thoughts and internal deliberations during this difficult transition period.
An article in this morning’s Washington Post, reporting on an unannounced visit to Iraq today by Gates, describes, for example, Gates’ forceful warning not to “mess with us” during the transition period and the early days of an Obama administration:
Anyone who thought that the upcoming months might present opportunities to “test” the new administration would be sorely mistaken…President Obama and his national security team, myself included, will be ready to defend the interests of the United States and our friends and allies from the moment he takes office on Jan. 20.
You tell “them,” the terrorists, Mr. Secretary, and also “them”—those who aspersed the president-elect with doubts on this very same issue.
Looking ahead to his tenure under Obama, and to more support from and cooperation with other nations, Gates “urged Gulf leaders to set aside old hostilities inflamed in the Saddam era and forge diplomatic ties with Iraq.”
Earlier in Bahrain, Gates urged Middle East nations to “help fight the spread of violent extremism by funding and training Afghan security forces and reaching out more aggressively to the fledgling government in Iraq.”
More specifically on Afghanistan, Gates offered the following, according to the Post:
Gates said that a failed state there will increase the chances that al-Qaida and other extremists will take hold again—a threat that would stretch across the Middle East and beyond.
“An enduring requirement is the ability to rapidly train, equip, and advise Afghan security forces,” said Gates, asking that Gulf nations fund and send forces—-including engineers and agricultural experts.
Gates said that while he is prepared to send an additional 20,000 troops to Afghan, he is concerned about having the foreign military force be too large and appear more like occupiers.
“Occupiers.” Where have we heard that before? That’s called “lessons learned.”
As to Iran, Gates struck a balanced chord between the bellicose ideology of his present boss and the more pragmatic, diplomatic approach of his new boss.
Again, according to the Post:
On Iran, his speech struck a more reserved tone this year, compared with his sharper criticism in remarks here last year of Tehran as a chaotic and destabilizing threat…On Saturday, Gates pressed Gulf nations to impose sanctions on Iran but added that they can be even more influential “by welcoming the new Iraq into the Arab fold.”
If anyone can provide the near-impossible transition from an ideology-driven national defense policy to a more sane and effective one, Gates is the man.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.