Monday, June 23, 2008

Gates or No Gates?

Since Obama is someone running on the concept uniting America after 16 years (28?) of polarization, it has been suggested -- by Andrew Sullivan, Joe Klein, and Noam Schreiber -- that he retain Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for his administaration. Josh Marshall thinks not.

A smattering of their thoughts:

Sullivan: Because in the testing period of a new president, a defense secretary already ensconced and deeply competent would be a great asset.

Klein: The political rationale for a "team of rivals" government is compelling for Obama — it would be the freshest way to turn the page after the ideological myopia of the Bush debacle, a decisive step away from the partisan ugliness Americans claim to hate, the best way to build a decisive governing coalition.

Schreiber: [I]t would buy him some real political cover for withdrawing from Iraq, however he decided to execute that. (Conversely, keeping Gates on while deferring withdrawal indefinitely could be an absolute disaster politically.)

Marshall (partially paraphrased): If ... Obama is elected president ... it will [partly] be [because] the American people desire to decisively turn the page on [a] disastrous ... Bush ... foreign policy that has been characterized by belligerence and in the most direct sense by war, and one in which the Pentagon has played a dominant role, often at the expense of the Department of State. Elected on those terms, I simply do not see how an incoming President Obama can choose to keep on the man who ran the Pentagon on behalf of President Bush and executed his policies, regardless of the man's qualifications in the abstract.

Here's my thought: No f*cking way. I'm with Marshall on this one. Sullivan is talking out of both sides of his mouth. In the past he has said that the GOP needs to lose this election partly to punish them for giving us George W. Bush and alienating conservatives. But he singles out Gates as somehow above the corruption, the insanity, and the rabid secretiveness. I have seen no evidence that Gates has not drunk the Bush Kool-Aid. He occasionally comes across as the level-headed guy in the most partisan and power-hungry administration in modern history (sort of like Paul O'Neill or Colin Powell did). But part of the illusion of his appeal stems from the Attila the Hun-like monstrousness of Donald Rumsfeld, who could make any successor seem like an outright American hero.

Klein has a good point that crossing the divide will counter the partisanship of the Bush Administration, but in my mind choosing a central figure in the Bush war policy is too conspicuous. Further, I think it would show a lack of courage on Obama's part to avoid placing someone in that job who reflects his vision of how this war ought to be prosecuted and finished.

Schreiber falls into the same category as Klein, for me.

As Marshall points out, voters are literally fed up with Bush (20% approval ratings) and his policies. American's just want to clean house, and in this case, Americans are right. Sweep out the bugs (figuratively and literally), burn some sage, and purify the whole town. Then, bring in the Obama team. I think having Republicans in the Cabinet is a bad idea, at least during his first term. Having some as advisers to the President from the White House might be seen as Obama doing some needed listening to both sides of major issues while still keeping the Administration a solidly Democratic one. Not that the Dems are any more capable of handling the situation (they are still all politicians, after all!), but preserving a primary executor of Bush foreign policy implies that Bush was at least partly right. And he was never right about this war.

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