Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Robert Gates Kept On

Is this some sort of joke? It's not a very funny one.

First a Secretary of State who as a Senator voted in favour of the Iraq War, whose foreign policy views were rejected in the person of John McCain, and who as a candidate had promised a nuclear strike against Iran (where there are more women than men at university) if so instructed by her campaign contributors in the feminist paradises of Saudi Arabia (where women may not drive, and whence came the 9/11 attacks), Kuwait (the last country on earth to deny the vote to women simply as such) and the United Arab Emirates.

And now this.

Reaching across the aisle could and should have meant bringing in Chuck Hagel, Mike Huckabee (thus guaranteeing that the gloriously beatable Sarah Palin would be the GOP nominee in 2012), Ron Paul, and even Mitt Romney on health.

Alongside Dennis Kucinich. Alongside John Edwards, since if the Clintons can come back, then there is obviously no morality clause. Alongside Jim Webb, who should have been one of Secretary of State, Defense Secretary and National Security Advisor - why the hell isn't he, doesn't Obama know that he owes Virginia? And alongside Ben Nelson and Bob Casey, not least because, like the culturally conservative Webb, morally and socially conservative Democrats like Nelson and Casey always backed Obama against Clinton. Among others.

But no.

Like Britain, America now has a permanent government, irremovable by mere elections.

So she gets a Secretary of State politically indistinguishable from Condoleezza Rice, who is no sort of social conservative; Bush was pretty much the only one round his Cabinet table, and even he is not much of one.

And now this.

Is this some sort of joke? It's not a very funny one.


  1. Another take:

    Keeping Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense was the most dramatic signal Barack Obama could have sent that he intends to implement major changes in defense policy. That may sound counterintuitive, but it has the virtue of being true. As Josh noted this morning, "cabinet appointees execute policy. They work for the president." So if Gates is tasked to take us out of Iraq and to redouble our efforts in Afghanistan, we can expect him to carry out both tasks with the same degree of competence he's exhibited thus far in his tenure. In a properly functioning administration, the Secretary of Defense is one of several key voices advising the president on where and how to exercise military force. But he possesses primary responsibility for deciding how that force should be structured, staffed, equipped, and supplied. Those are decisions the president largely delegates, and thus where the secretary exercises his greatest degree of autonomy. And it is in those realms of defense policy that Gates has most distinguished himself. In retaining Gates, Obama is sending a clear signal to the Pentagon bureaucracy that their usual strategy of stalling and out-lasting civilian appointees is going to fail; that he intends to pursue Gates' key reforms. And that's a decision which should make us all stand and cheer.

    Many critics of the pick exhibit a myopic view of defense policy. Open Left's Chris Bowers objects on purely symbolic grounds, arguing that it makes Democrats look weak on defense and undermines the appearance of change. These same concerns have been voiced by TPM's usually-astute David Kurtz and Greg Sargent, as well as by posters at DailyKos. Robert Dreyfuss of The Nation, goes a step further, all but declaring the Obama administration a third term for Bush, at least on foreign policy.

    The standard critique of the mainstream media, as the traditional press is derisively known in the blogosphere, is that it privileges process over substance. But on defense policy, at least, a similar charge could reasonably be leveled against these bloggers. Conspicuously absent from any of these laments is a detailed, substantive case against Gates. The argument is being conducted almost wholly on symbolic grounds.

    Chris Bowers may be the most widely-cited online critic of this pick, so it's worth taking a close look at what he's written. Bowers points out that the Pentagon budget accounts for a huge percentage of our discretionary spending, and it's entirely out of control. But is Gates the problem, or the solution? Bowers appears to have no idea. In fact, Gates and his team have attacked a series of previously-sacrosanct weapons programs. They've done so in the absence of any material support from the Bush administration, and in the face of fierce opposition from the Democratic congress.

    No single example is more powerful than that of the F-22 Raptor. It's quite likely the finest air-superiority fighter ever built, but it's certainly the most expensive. The program has been scaled back repeatedly. The Pentagon wants to end purchases with just 183, preferring to purchase the cheaper F-35 instead, and to spend the difference elsewhere; the Air Force is pushing for 381. Congress stuffed $523 million into the FY2009 Defense Appropriation for the production of parts for another 20 aircraft, including $150 million in up-front spending, designed to lock the purchase in before the new administration could take office and cancel the program. But John Young, a widely-respected Gates deputy rumored to be staying on along with his boss, cleverly noticed that the bill only required the Pentagon to expend up to $150 million; he allocated just $40 million, just enough to replace the 4 F-22s lost in combat, and structured the contract so that the options must be exercised by January 21, forcing an immediate decision on the new administration. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were livid. Neil Abercrombie, the subcommittee chair, and Silvestre Reyes delivered memorable verbal thrashings. And they're both Democrats. But Young refused to cave. And his stand preserved for the new administration the chance to make up its own mind about the F-22.

    That's just a single example. Gates and his team have also questioned the need for further procurement of the C-17, the CSAR-X helicopter, the Zumwalt-class destroyer, and the Army's FCS initiative, among other weapons systems. One analyst, quoted in Politico's coverage of the pick, bluntly observed that "the defense industry would like to see the entire Bush team move on." But it's not the "Bush team" that's the problem for defense contractors; it's Gates. The Bush Administration has presided over an historic expansion of defense spending. But Gates has been warning that the party is over. His deputies are pushing to roll the ongoing and predictable costs of conflicts into the main appropriations bill, instead of using a supplemental, an important first step in regaining control of spending. And defense spending is just the tip of the iceberg. On a wide array of issues including encouraging heterodox thought, promoting capable officers, reigning in inter-service rivalries, prioritizing the needs of soldiers in the field, and placing personnel ahead of technology, Gates has made important strides - a point I've already made at excessive length. Having him pursue the same agenda while working for a President who actually agrees with and supports his efforts is an exciting prospect.

    Don't just take my word for it. The two leading blogs on counterinsurgency - Abu Muqawama and Small Wars Journal - make it clear that this was the smartest and most important decision Obama has made thus far. Richard Danzig is reportedly Obama's choice for Deputy Defense Secretary, a role he is expected to full until he takes over for Gates. How does he feel about the Pentagon chief? "I think Secretary Gates has been a good secretary of defense," Danzig told reporters back in October. "I think he'd be an even better one in an Obama administration.... Many of the kinds of efforts he's made are in tune with what we're trying to do."

    I can't put it any better.

  2. "doesn't Obama know that he owes Virginia?"

    Could either Webb or Mark Warner be that 2012 primary challenger you are looking for?

  3. It's reassuring how rapidly people like you are becoming disillusioned with Obama. Makes me even more sure that America made the right choice.

  4. I was never illusined in the first place.

    I came late to Obama, and then only after the elimination of several better candidates: John Edwards on economic policy, Dennis Kucinich on economic policy and on foreign policy, Mike Huckabee on economic policy (based on his record, not his rhetoric) and on social policy, Ron Paul on social policy and on foreign policy.

    None of those was perfect.

    But they were all far, far better than – heaven help us – John McCain or Hillary Clinton.

    And they were all better than Barack Obama.

    Old Dominion, with a name like that, you doubtless know better than I about Webb or Warner.

  5. Excellent post in the first comment. I agree.