An Old Soldier Fades Away
Publication: The Mark News
July 1, 2011
By Alan W. Dowd
As Robert Gates hands off the reins at the Pentagon to Leon Panetta, the American people and their allies in Canada, Europe and Asia should take comfort in knowing that the first and last line of the West’s defence has been—and remains—in steady hands.
A little history is in order. It pays to recall that as a candidate and in the early months of his presidency, President Barack Obama largely rejected the Bush administration’s characterization of the
But Panetta, who served as CIA director before taking over at the Pentagon, refused to engage in the rhetorical and political games over word choice. “There’s no question this is a war,” he bluntly said of the struggle against jihadist terrorism. (Tellingly, in his address announcing the strike on Osama bin Laden’s compound, the president used the word “war” eight times.)
While others talked about talking to
And he was an early and vocal advocate of the so-called drone war in
The man replacing Panetta at CIA is Gen. David Petraeus, who has fought al Qaeda on two fronts. Petraeus came into the public’s field of vision at a time when nothing was going right in Iraq—and virtually no one thought the Iraq project could be salvaged. But that’s exactly what Petraeus did. After rewriting the
Obama then asked Petraeus to make lightning strike twice by repeating in
In short, Panetta and Petraeus are solid picks. Not only do they have proven track records; the president’s choice of these two underscores that despite all the rhetoric, he continues to fill key security and defence posts with people who understand the country is at war with a tenacious and determined enemy.
That brings us back to Gates. Recall that before he served in the Obama administration, Gates was President George W. Bush’s defence secretary, which means he carried out the surge strategy in
Indeed, any recap of Gates’ tenure has to begin and end with his sense of duty. It pays to recall that he took over at the Pentagon in the midst of a war that was spiraling out of control, against the howling headwinds unleashed by his predecessor’s controversial style and consequential decisions. And then, when a new commander-in-chief with a new direction asked, Gates stayed on.
In a Foreign Policy profile, Gates explained, “I really didn’t want to be asked” to stay. That’s because he knew if he were asked, he would not say no. “In the middle of two wars, kids out there getting hurt and dying, there was no way that I was going to say, ‘No.’”
The Bush-Obama handoff wasn’t fumbled, in large part, because of Gates.
Trying to be a good soldier, Gates appeared to do rhetorical gymnastics in defending Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review, conceding that Obama’s nuclear plans had removed the “calculated ambiguity” that had kept
Even so, Gates was not a yes man. For example, he called on Congress to pass legislation to prevent Gitmo detainees from being transferred into the
Gates clearly disagreed with Obama’s position on Libya, warning before NATO bombs started falling that “a no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya”—and noting after a few weeks of war that Libya was not a threat and “not a vital national interest to the United States.”
In recent months, Gates shifted his focus to ending what he called “the culture of endless money that has taken hold” inside the Pentagon. Although the military was the beneficiary of healthy infusions of cash after 9/11—what Gates called “a gusher of defence spending”—Gates challenged his charges to do something the rest of
Specifically, Gates presented plans to cut defence spending by tens of billions. He also shut down obsolete or over-priced weapons programs. “The patriot today,” he said, quoting President Dwight Eisenhower, “is the fellow who can do the job with less money.”
Yet in one of his last addresses as defence secretary, Gates cautioned his successors not to cut too deep. “I have long believed—and I still do—that the defence budget, however large it may be, is not the cause of this country’s fiscal woes....When President Eisenhower warned of the ‘Military Industrial Complex’ in 1961, defence consumed more than half the federal budget, and the portion of the nation’s economic output devoted to the military was about 9 percent. By comparison, this year’s base defence budget…represents less than 15 percent of all federal spending and equates to roughly three and a half percent of GDP.”
“If we are going to reduce the resources and the size of the U.S. military,” he went on, “people need to make conscious choices about what the implications are for the security of the country, as well as for the variety of military operations we have around the world, if lower priority missions are scaled back or eliminated…The tough choices ahead are really about the kind of role the American people—accustomed to unquestioned military dominance for the past two decades—want their country to play in the world.”
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