Don’t trust me as a gambler. You’d probably make more by putting your money into credit-default swaps. Nonetheless, I’d like to make a small wager on the single significant holdover from the Bush administration should an Obama presidency actually happen. Keep a close eye on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He was clearly sent into the Rumsfeld breach back at the end of 2006 to begin the clean-up of the Bush administration’s foreign policy mess and–my guess–to prevent Dick Cheney and pals from attacking Iran. And this, with a little help from onrushing reality, he seems to have accomplished. He remains the singular adult in the Bush foreign policy playpen, a skilled bureaucratic maneuverer from his CIA days, who claims he plans to leave Washington in January but would never say "never" to an offer ahead of time.
Like Obama, he’s plunked for an intensified Afghan War and, just last week, a key national security advisor to the candidate, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, praised Gates, suggesting he had been a splendid secretary of defense and adding that "he’d be an even better one in an Obama administration."
So, when Gates gives a speech aimed at the Pentagon’s future, it’s worth listening carefully. On September 29th, he went to the National Defense University and offered a peek into that future as he imagines it. Now remember, the U.S. financial meltdown was already underway and, after seven unbelievably fat years, Pentagon weapons contractors were starting to express worries about possible future cutbacks. Nonetheless, Gates offered a vision of a U.S. military-plus. There was the usual support for a range of conventional weapons systems for wars that will never be fought and their futuristic equivalents, as well as for a larger Army, a larger Marine Corps, and a larger Navy. (The Air Force, except for unmanned aerial vehicles, looks to be in trouble in Gatesworld.) But above all, the once and (possibly) future secretary of defense wants to invest in "institutionalizing counterinsurgency skills, and our ability to conduct stability and support operations." Backed by a growing lobby eager to put ever more warm bodies in the military, he’s opting for a major build-up to deal with future insurgencies out there in the global badlands. Think… gulp… "nation building." Think, as well, future Afghanistans and Iraqs.
Though Gates has also claimed of late that the Pentagon’s gargantuan budget will no longer outpace inflation, that growth in military spending is "probably a thing of the past," this is still a recipe for a relatively unrestrained imperial future that, as Aziz Huq, author of Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror, points out in a new piece, "Use It or Lose It? How to Manage an Imperial Decline," is a disaster waiting to happen. It is, in fact, a potential recipe for American bankruptcy.