Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Case for Keeping Robert Gates

Nancy Soderberg and Brian Katulis published a recent article in The Washington Post arguing for the next President to retain Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The case for Gates goes beyond the obvious question of assisting the next president in handling Iraq, which Gates has helped haul back from the brink of total collapse. But he has also been instrumental in launching a sweeping revolution in U.S. national security. Gates has found space to do so since, with the exception of Vice President Cheney, the hard-liners who populated the first Bush term are now gone. Instead of outspoken ideologues such as Douglas Feith and John Bolton, we now have competent functionaries such as National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley. Even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who played cheerleader to the addled muscle-flexing policies of the first term, has surrounded herself with career diplomats and is actually listening to them. The administration that didn't do nation-building and wouldn't talk to the "axis of evil" is doing both.

The gap between these two approaches -- between the professionals and the ideologues -- is perhaps starkest on Iraq. Our generals know that the secret of the "surge" wasn't simply putting more U.S. troops on the ground as our coalition partners withdrew. The secret was implementing a new set of tactics, largely drawn from the counterinsurgency manual developed by (General David) Petraeus, that focused on the Iraqi people's basic needs... He made great strides in improving the security situation by bettering Iraqis' lives with quick, high-impact construction projects, by employing Iraqis rather than foreign contractors to help build their own country and even jump-starting trade between northern Iraq and Syria.

After keeping Gates it would be a short step to also retaining Petraeus as head of Central Command. This would keep two experienced, competent professionals in key national security slots and might also reassure Republicans that Obama really is committed to a pragmatic, non-partisan approach to governing.

--Ballard Burgher

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