Obama Keeps Robert Gates on at Pentagon, Gratifying Conservative Bloggers

By
Left: Alex and Cynthia Rodriguez with their daughters (both of whom have the middle name Alexander — wtf?) in Miami Tuesday night. Right, Madonna, Ingrid Casares, and Guy Oseary in 2005. Photo: Getty Images

As we wrote earlier, Barack Obama has reportedly asked current Defense secretary Robert Gates to stay on in the Obama administration. The decision comes as no surprise, however: Obama promised to put at least one Republican in his Cabinet, and Gates had been mentioned as a possibility for months. And, like most of Obama's appointments to date, this one is being described as a sensible, pragmatic move. The only complaint, really, is that keeping Bush's secretary of Defense isn't the "change" Obama promised — although in a way it is, because no president has ever kept the Defense secretary from the administration of an opposing party.

• Ben Smith finds plenty of "logic" in the move: "It puts a Republican, as promised, in a top slot; it prevents Obama from taking the blame, immediately, for whatever happens in Iraq; and it's probably good for his relationship with the uniformed military." And the fact that anti-war Obama has kept Bush's Defense secretary may say as much about "how different Gates is from Rumsfeld as about any change in the president-elect." [Politico]

• Greg Sargent posits that "in one sense the economic meltdown made this key decision easier," because "the relentless focus on the economic crisis has to some degree reduced the intensity of attention being paid to the critical national security decisions that lie ahead." It also "allows for the argument that it makes sense to preserve temporary continuity at the Pentagon in order to enable the incoming President to devote his full attention to the fixing [of] the economy." [Talking Points Memo]

• Steve Benen writes that, while initially this could seem "more than a little discouraging for Democrats," actually there's "ample evidence that Gates is exactly who Obama needs at the Pentagon right now." Gates is not a neocon; he's a "non-ideological pragmatist" who should "bring a degree of steadiness and consistency that may benefit Obama enormously." [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Victor Davis Hanson welcomes the appointment, saying Gates has "provided stable, sober leadership during two wars, and overseen dramatic improvement with the Petraeus surge." But he also wonders whether "these centrist appointments" will "undermine the hope and change mantra." [National Review]

• Peter Baker and Thom Shanker write that "Obama put aside concerns that he would send a jarring signal after a political campaign in which he made opposition to the war his signature issue in the early days." Some of Obama's advisers "quietly complained that he was undercutting his own message and risked alienating war critics who formed his initial base of support," but others "argued that Mr. Gates was a practical public servant who was also interested in drawing down troops in Iraq when conditions allow." [NYT]

• Matthew Yglesias thinks "it’s very possible to overstate the notion that keeping Gates on is in tension with Obama’s record of opposition to the invasion of Iraq." After all, "Obama has long hinted around at admiration for the realpolitik of the Powell/Scowcroft school of Republicans" who viewed Bush's war skeptically. [Think Progress]

• Brent Budowsky feels he "must dissent," noting that at "one of the defining moments in history, Bob Gates was horrendously wrong and his judgment, knowledge and advice was horrendously bad." The moment he refers to is Ronald Reagan's talks with Mikhail Gorbachev, which Gates opposed. Budowsky also fears "this presages a longer American military commitment in Iraq than was discussed during the campaign." [Pundits Blog/Hill]

• Max Boot admits that he "was skeptical of Obama’s moderate posturing during the campaign," but now finds himself "gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain." Obama's entire national-security team is "stunning in its moderation." It's fair to say that "his administration already far exceeds expectations, and he hasn’t even taken office yet." [Contentions/Commentary]

Earlier: New Administration Already Tackling Afghanistan, Which Is Already Resisting