December 1st, 2008
12:37 PM ET

Robert Gates: Wrong man for the job

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/01/bidenandgates.jpg caption="Vice-President elect Joseph Biden smiles with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at a press conference on Monday. "]

Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editor and Publisher, The Nation

Barack Obama not only had the good judgment to oppose the war in Iraq but , as he told us earlier this year, "I want to end the mindset that got us into war." So it is troubling that a man of such good judgment has asked Robert Gates to stay on as Secretary of Defense–and assembled a national security team of such narrow bandwidth. It is true that President Obama will set the policy. But this team makes it more difficult to seize the extraordinary opportunity Obama's election has offered to reengage the world and reset America's priorities. Maybe being right about the greatest foreign policy disaster in US history doesn't mean much inside the Beltway? How else to explain that not a single top member of Obama's foreign policy/national security team opposed the war–or the dubious claims leading up to it?

The appointment of Hillary Clinton, who failed to oppose the war, has worried many. But I am more concerned about Gates. I spent the holiday weekend reading many of the speeches Hillary Clinton gave in her trips abroad as First Lady, especially those delivered at the UN Beijing Women's Conference and the Vital Voices Conferences, and I believe she will carve out an important role as Secretary of State through elevating women's (and girl's) rights as human rights. As she said in Belfast in 1998, "Human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights." That is not to diminish her hawkish record on several issues, but as head of State she is in a position to put diplomacy back at the center of US foreign policy role–and reduce the Pentagon's.

It's the appointment of Gates which has a dispiriting, stay-the-course feel to it. Some will argue, and I've engaged in my fair share of such arguments, that Gates will simply be carrying out Obama's policies and vision. And a look at history shows that other great reform Presidents–Lincoln and Roosevelt–brought people into their cabinets who were old Washington hands or people they believed to be effective managers. Like Obama, they confronted historic challenges that compelled (and enabled) them to make fundamental change. But Gates will undoubtedly help to shape policy and determine which issues are given priority. And while Gates has denounced "the gutting" of America's "soft power," he has been vocally opposed to Obama's Iraq withdrawal plan. And at a time when people like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz are calling for steps toward a world free of nuclear weapons (a position Obama has adopted), Gates has been calling for a new generation of nuclear weapons.

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soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Patty

    Obama supporters are such hypocrites when it comes to who Obama is choosing. Those that were so horrible and torn to shreds by Obamabots are now the greatest. Go figure.

    December 1, 2008 at 6:07 pm |
  2. Mike, Syracuse NY

    Katrina, Katrina, Katrina. Your problem is that you actually believed all those promises Obama made. Sorry, but there's no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy either.

    December 1, 2008 at 4:43 pm |
  3. Jen

    I think Obama just wants qualified people working for him. They don't have to have the same political views as him, so long as they get the job that he's asking done.

    December 1, 2008 at 3:57 pm |
  4. Larry

    Hopefully HRC will be protected by that 5" glass when she speaks, just like BO, to protect her from BO supporters.

    December 1, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  5. Cindy

    I think that Obama did the right thing by keeping Gates on. This is no time for on the job training. Gates knows everything that is happening and trying to catch someone up on it all would be ridiculous at this point. Plus Gates has done a good job. I can see if he was terrible at it but he's not.

    Some people will never be happy no matter what happens.


    December 1, 2008 at 1:16 pm |
  6. Jenny Rome Georgia

    I think that keeping Gates in place indicates to our terrorist "friends" that we are still about the business of protecting our country from the likes of them even as we enter into a governmental transition period. Obama can replace Gates at a later date if he chooses.

    December 1, 2008 at 1:09 pm |