Robert Gates: Should We Want Him to Stay?


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Bob Gates is keeping his Pentagon perch (which has been quite clear for some time).
I had moved close to the view that Gates should go. My thinking at the time was that Gates played a vital role “Out-Cheneying Cheney” in the last couple of years of G.W. Bush’s term, but that his skill at crunching out the ambiguity in the national security decision making process that Cheney and Rumsfeld exploited would not be necessary in the Obama White House ecosystem.
In other words, one needed Gates to be a constraint on Bush, but why would Obama want to run the risk that Gates would constrain his team?
After speaking to some other national security policy experts very close to Bob Gates and General Brent Scowcroft, I changed course and began to see the value of Gates staying at DoD.
My hunch is that Gates wants a chance to make the kind of leaps in the Middle East I have been writing about for some time. He wants to try and push Iran-US relations into a constructive direction. He wants to change the game in Afghanistan — and the answer will not be a military-dominant strategy. He wants to try and stabilize Iraq in a negotiated, confidence building process that includes Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and other regional forces. And he wants to support a big push on Israel-Palestine peace and reconfigure relations between much of the Arab League and Israel.
This is a big order. And he wants to lurk in the shadows, behind the scenes and away from cameras and let other of Obama’s team get the spotlight and credit.
National Security Advisor-to-be Jim Jones is on the same page as Gates — and the two of them will constitute a considerably strong axis of power inside the Obama White House. My hunch is that Hillary Clinton and her State Department Deputy James Steinberg will work collaboratively to achieve this vision.
It’s a big gamble. There is a large chance of paralysis between big foreign policy/national security guns that don’t like yielding to power rivals in an administration.
But the gamble could be a very big payoff for Obama and the country — and would actually deliver the “change” that so many are expecting.
We’ll see — not trying to be naive or to give Obama too many breaks. But I am trying to understand his choices and how he thinks he’s going to achieve his policy targets.
— Steve Clemons


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