Election 2008

Department of Defense, Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison/AP
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates

Gates to Stay On at Defense

November 26, 2008 08:14 AM
by Josh Katz
Obama's decision to make Robert Gates his Secretary of Defense brings bipartisanship, experience and continuity to the position.

Advisers Say Another Year of Gates at DoD

President-elect Barack Obama has reached across the aisle for the Secretary of Defense position, choosing a Bush appointee with substantial experience. Sources on the Obama campaign say that current Defense Secretary Robert Gates, 65, has accepted the offer to maintain his position in the next administration.

Obama is not expected to publicly declare his national security team until next week. An adviser for the Obama transition was "99 percent certain" that Gates would still have the job a year into Obama’s first term, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Advisers also indicate that Jim Jones, a former Marine commandant who has served as supreme allied commander of NATO, will most likely be the next national security adviser. The Associated Press also reported that John Brennan has dropped out of consideration for any intelligence position. Brennan, who took the helm of the National Counterterrorism Center in 2004, was the frontrunner to be CIA chief, but he cited his withdrawal on criticism about his actions regarding Bush's interrogation and detention policies. It is not yet clear who Obama will now name for CIA director.

Although some Obama supporters might find it disappointing that he would appoint the man leading President Bush’s war effort to the same post after Obama stressed his opposition to the Iraq War during the campaign, Gates, a registered Independent, is well-liked in both Democrat and Republican circles, according to the Boston Globe. Gates has differed greatly from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in his approach to both wars, veering on the side caution about boasting U.S. gains. Gates succeeded Rumsfeld in Dec. 2006.

Gates also opposed increasing troop numbers in Iraq when Bush picked him for the position, but he went on to implement the “surge” strategy “that is credited with helping improve security,” the Globe reports. Gates has also called for diplomatic talks with Iran, which other members of the Bush administration have opposed but Obama has advocated. The Defense Secretary also agrees with Obama that the U.S. should focus more on Afghanistan and divert troops from Iraq.

Background: The position of Secretary of Defense

The Secretary of Defense oversees the Department of Defense, which was established in 1947. He advises the president on defense policy and “exercises authority, direction, and control” over the department. The department itself provides “the military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of the United States.” The DoD Web site outlines all the roles and responsibilities within the DoD.

Obama’s defense secretary will oversee the entire military as well as Central Command, which monitors troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and advise the president on troop levels and a withdrawal plan.

Related Topic: The Gates-Air Force row

The forced resignations of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and Secretary Michael W. Wynne in June made Gates the “first defense secretary to fire both the military and civilian heads of a service at the same time,” according to The Washington Post.

Gates said that his decision to force out the two officials was “based entirely” on the Donald report, which analyzed the Air Force’s nuclear weapons gaffes, the Air Force Times reports. Gates also suggested that this was not the end of the Air Force shakeup.

The Air Force had experienced a string of recent oversight failures. In Aug. 2007, the leadership came under fire for accidentally flying nuclear-armed cruise missiles across the United States, which were then left unmonitored. In March, news surfaced that the Air Force had mistakenly shipped classified nuclear materials to Taiwan.

But analysts suggested that the firings may have as much to do with ideological differences between Gates and the Air Force leadership as with the service’s errors.

Gates had stressed his desire to prepare the armed forces more for “small, ‘asymmetric’ wars—wars in which the Air Force takes a back seat to ground forces,” the Wired Danger Room blog wrote. The Danger Room claimed that the Defense Secretary wanted the Air Force to focus more attention on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq than any future conflicts with China or Russia.

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