Barack Obama not only had the good judgment to oppose the war in Iraqbut , as he told us earlier this year, “I want to end the mindset thatgot us into war.” So it is troubling that a man of such good judgmenthas asked Robert Gates to stay on as Secretary of Defense–and assembleda national security team of such narrow bandwidth. It is true thatPresident Obama will set the policy. But this team makes it moredifficult to seize the extraordinary opportunity Obama’s election hasoffered to reengage the world and reset America’s priorities. Maybebeing right about the greatest foreign policy disaster in US historydoesn’t mean much inside the Beltway? How else to explain that not asingle top member of Obama’s foreign policy/national security teamopposed the war–or the dubious claims leading up to it?
The appointment of Hillary Clinton, who failed to oppose the war, hasworried many. But I am more concerned about Gates. I spent the holidayweekend reading many of the speeches Hillary Clinton gave in her tripsabroad as First Lady, especially those delivered at the UN BeijingWomen’s Conference and the Vital Voices Conferences, and I believe shewill carve out an important role as Secretary of State through elevatingwomen’s (and girl’s) rights as human rights. As she said in Belfast in1998, “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are humanrights.” 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 thecenter of US foreign policy role–and reduce the Pentagon’s.
It’s the appointment of Gates which has a dispiriting, stay-the-coursefeel to it. Some will argue, and I’ve engaged in my fair share of sucharguments, that Gates will simply be carrying out Obama’s policies andvision. And a look at history shows that other great reformPresidents–Lincoln and Roosevelt–brought people into theircabinets who were old Washington hands or people they believed to beeffective managers. Like Obama, they confronted historic challenges thatcompelled (and enabled) them to make fundamental change. But Gates willundoubtedly help to shape policy and determine which issues are givenpriority. And while Gates has denounced “the gutting” of America’s “softpower,” he has been vocally opposed to Obama’s Iraq withdrawal plan. Andat a time when people like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz are callingfor steps toward a world free of nuclear weapons (a position Obama hasadopted), Gates has been calling for a new generation of nuclearweapons.