Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 1, 2008

CABINET PRESSER Barack Obama held his fourth press conference in seven days this morning, introducing his national security team. As expected, Hillary Clinton will be Secretary of State, Robert Gates will stay on as Defense Secretary, Eric Holder will be the Attorney General, and Janet Napolitano will be Secretary of Homeland Security. Moreover, retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones will be the White House National Security Advisor and Susan Rice will be the Ambassador to the United Nations.

None of this was especially surprising, though Obama did use the event to announce that Rice, as the U.N. ambassador, would hold a cabinet-level post, restoring the position that existed before Bush took office.

Obama's comments on the wars in the Middle East were especially interesting, given that he's keeping Bush's Defense Secretary around for another term. From the introductions:

"As I said throughout the campaign, I will be giving Secretary Gates and our military a new mission as soon as I take office: responsibly ending the war in Iraq through a successful transition to Iraqi control. We will also ensure that we have the strategy -- and resources -- to succeed against al Qaeda and the Taliban. As Bob said not too long ago, Afghanistan is where the war on terror began, and it is where it must end. And going forward, we will continue to make the investments necessary to strengthen our military and increase our ground forces to defeat the threats of the 21st century."

Asked about his approach to Iraq during the Q&A, Obama reiterated his support for a 16-month withdrawal timeline. The president-elect noted that he would work with commanders on how best to execute the withdrawal policy, but Obama referred to the 16-month schedule as "the right time-frame."

Standing a few feet away was, of course, Robert Gates. It was a reminder that Bush's Pentagon chief will be called upon to do exactly what Obama promised voters he would do, and Gates is prepared to take on that task. Insert obligatory reference to bipartisan cover for Obama's foreign policy here.

Greg Sargent added, "Obviously, the devil will be in the details over what sort of timing Gates sees as necessary for "responsibly" ending the war. And there will be plenty of room for disagreement ahead on that and other fronts. But the fact that Obama went out of his way to reiterate his commitment to ending the war at his first presser with Gates seems noteworthy and encouraging."

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

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Comments

Has anybody besides me noticed a major omission from the incoming national security team? I'm referring, of course, to the unnamed Director of National Intelligence. I'm hoping for somebody named Richard: Clarke or Holbrook.

Posted by: rong on December 1, 2008 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Don't underestimate Gates' ability to stab Obama in the back. He's made a career out of it.

Posted by: grinning cat on December 1, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

As I said throughout the campaign, I will be giving Secretary Gates and our military a new mission as soon as I take office: responsibly ending the war in Iraq through a successful transition to Iraqi control.

I don't recall Obama having said that he would retain Gates to end the war in Iraq. Rather I only recall his pledges to end the war without any mention of Gates. Please advise when and where he said so and exactly what he said he would tap Gates to do the job.

If Gates' becomes insubordinate or otherwise unsatisfactory, his discharge would cause problems in the event he has been needed for "bipartisan cover."

Also, why do only Democrats and liberals need "bipartisan cover"?

Posted by: Duncan Kinder on December 1, 2008 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

I believe that one of the major reasons Gates is being held over is that he has gone one record stating that the military needs to be reconfigured. Soviet tanks are not going to be coming through the Fulda Gap, yet that's what our military is structured to resist. Smaller wars and guerilla actions are much more likely, and that's exactly where our current military doctrines are weakest. Gates says he wants to change this, and Obama is saying, in effect: "OK, that sounds like a good idea. Let's see you do it".

Posted by: CN on December 1, 2008 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Soviet tanks are not going to be coming through the Fulda Gap, yet that's what our military is structured to resist.

In 1984, Gary Hart had a campaign white paper making the exact same point, and promising that if elected he would divert resources away from massive weapons (tanks, large bombers, carriers and battleships) to lighter, faster, more mobile equipment better suited to smaller scale but faster developing hostilities in more diverse geographies.

Too bad (a) the Democrats instead nominated a same-old-same-old establishment candidate and (b) the media and electorate subsequently determined (but only until 1992) that what a candidate does below the waist is much more important than goes on above his neck.

We could be literally a generation ahead in terms of military reform. The bright, visionary, but somewhat eccentric or non-traditional candidates almost always have the best ideas and the least chance of getting through the gauntlet. sigh.

Posted by: zeitgeist on December 1, 2008 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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