Whither America's defense policy?

If you've been laboring under the impression that President Bush is in favor of expanding and strengthening the American military, I've got some news for you.  The man he installed as the replacement for Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, former career CIA man Robert Gates, is not exactly headed in that direction.  In fact, there's no question that he's quite adamant about continuing the current Bush Administration policy of not modernizing our conventional warfare capacity -- that is, the Cold War concept of combat -- because we're going to concentrate on "irregular" warfare.  As George H. Wittman noted this past Friday in the American Spectator

Gates has accepted the more humanitarian idea that the world's problems that produce terrorism are primarily economically and socially-centered rather than driven by harshly material, historical, political and religious forces. This may fit well into Gates' Eagle Scout background, but it is Pollyannaish nonsense in the real world context.


Why is it that Robert Gates wants to reduce to an academic exercise the dangers historically implicit in world affairs? And more important why -- other than justifying reducing the defense budget -- does he wish to downplay the need at this time of maintaining and, most importantly, improving existing U.S. conventional air, sea, and ground forces?

One can see now why the surprising choice was made of Gates by President-elect Obama to stay on as SecDef. No worries about him from the Left's anti-war machine because Robert Gates' ability to argue out of both sides of his mouth makes him a suitable defense choice in the new administration. It may take a while, but the thinking public will catch on -- hopefully before America's enemies do.

There are some others who disagree with president elect Obama's choice for Defense Secretary. For one, there's leftist Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation who
thinks that Gates is the "wrong man for the job" since he won't cut and run out of Iraq as quickly as Obama has promised we would, though she seems to have few concerns regarding broader defense capability questions.  What it all comes down to is:

Of course, Obama still has an opportunity to change the mindset that got us into Iraq and, more important, he has a popular mandate to challenge and change failed policies and craft a smarter security policy for this century. But he's sure making his work tougher by bringing people like Robert Gates on board.

Got that?

And then there's David Broder of the Washington Post who's concerned about the "Danger of Holdovers" in the new Administration. Seems he's worried that Obama may be faced with his own Bay of Pigs fiasco if Gates has some secret plan cooking that we don't yet know about.  However, Broder is also fretting about Special Forces operations rather than anything conventional.

Outside of that the big guns are quite pleased with Gates continuing as SecDef.  Thom Shanker at the New York Times is pleased that "Gates is a veteran player on transition teams" and as...

A career intelligence professional, Mr. Gates has worked for Democratic and Republican administrations as a C.I.A. officer, and also spent nine years on the staff of the National Security Council, under four presidents of both political parties.

Since returning to government in December 2006 as defense secretary, he has scored high marks on Capitol Hill for his ability to reach across the aisle to leading Democrats. At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, the chairman, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, opened the session by saluting Mr. Gates.

One couldn't ask for a sweeter Congressional endorsement. And just think of all that bi-partisanship.

The Wall Street Journal is gleeful at the left's disappointment in the decision to retain Gates:

The names floated for Barack Obama's national security team "are drawn exclusively from conservative, centrist and pro-military circles without even a single -- yes, not one! -- chosen to represent the antiwar wing of the Democratic party." In his plaintive post this week on the Nation magazine's Web site, Robert Dreyfuss indulges in the political left's wonderful talent for overstatement. But who are we to interfere with his despair?

While at the Washington Post, the Nixonian former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is positively effusive in his opinion of Gates:

The continuation in office of Robert Gates as secretary of defense is an important balancing element in that process. Alone among the key players, he is at the end, not the beginning, of his policy contribution. Having agreed to stay on in a transitional role, he cannot be interested in the jockeying that accompanies all new administrations. The incoming administration must have appointed him with the awareness that he would not reverse his previous convictions. He must make the difficult adjustment from one administration to another -- a tribute to the nonpartisan nature of the conduct of his office in the Bush administration. He is a guarantor of continuity but also the shepherd of necessary innovation.

Wow. Gates is a "guarantor of continuity" and "the shepherd of necessary innovation"! Just in time for the Christmas season, I suppose.

On the other hand, William Hawkins cautions in his FrontPageMagazine piece that:

The NIC report warned that the greater dangers are coming from a resurgent Russia and a rising China, not terrorist groups. Russia was described as "more proactive and influential...and a leading force in opposition to US global dominance." Moscow intends to be an "an energy superpower" capable of "reestablishing a sphere of influence in its Near Abroad." The NIC sees "China is poised to have more impact on the world over the next 20 years than any other country." China will have the world's second largest economy by 2025, and will be a leading military power. "US security and economic interests could face new challenges if China becomes a peer competitor that is militarily strong as well as economically dynamic and energy hungry." 

Obama has said very little about either Russia or China other than to stress his desire to engage both in new diplomatic efforts to resolve disputes. Expanding and modernizing the American armed forces to confront aggression from either Moscow or Beijing is not on his agenda, nor will it likely appear in his defense budgets.

Well, who and what should you believe?  Is Gates as Defense Secretary the greatest thing since sliced bread? Or is his continuation in that position a betrayal by Obama that is a grievous breach of his promises to the left wing of the Democrats? Or is Robert Gates taking us to the point of no return when it comes to America's conventional warfare capacity?

Perhaps we should ask the Russians and the Chinese?
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