What to Expect from Bob Gates
Robert Gates takes the helm at the Pentagon at an unenviable moment: spiraling violence in Iraq, a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, and an overstretched U.S. military, not to mention nukes in Pyongyang and centrifuges in Tehran. So, what can we expect from America’s next secretary of defense? FP takes a look at how he’ll run his $500 billion business.
Bob Gates made headlines with his confirmation hearing admission that the United States isnt winning the war in Iraq, though he quickly added that America isnt losing, either. The nominee predicted the U.S. military would stay in Iraq for a long time, but with a dramatically smaller number of soldiers and marines. He also warned that American failure would lead to a regional conflagration. Gates, who until his nomination was a member of the Iraq Study Group, promised that all options are on the table, but President George W. Bush has already ruled out a major troop withdrawal. Gates may well find himself boxed in by the White House, says Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, adding that perhaps the greatest service Gates could render would simply be to return a willingness to tolerate dissent to the Department of Defense.
Gates spent 26 years in the CIAtwo as its directorbut he has come under fire for allegedly politicizing intelligence into spin his bosses like to hear and not revealing all he knew about the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s. Regardless, his nomination has been greeted with enthusiasm by former intelligence officers, who point out that Gates will take a renewed interest in stalled intelligence reform. Under Rumsfeld, the Pentagon took expanded control of intelligence operations, often working in isolation from the civilian intel agencies. Stephen Cambone, the Pentagons top intelligence official and a close ally of Rumsfelds, has already announced that hell resign at the end of the year, a signal that Gates will likely assert more control of intelligence gathering at the Pentagon with an aim to speed its integration with the other agencies.
Former CIA Middle East specialist Reuel Marc Gerecht told FP that Gatess views on Iran are profoundly wrongheaded. Gates has advocated direct dialogue with Tehran for more than a decade (longer, if you count Iran-Contra), and in 2004 he cochaired a major report that called for a new approach to U.S.-Iranian relations. His has become the consensus position in Washington now, says Iran expert Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations (though theres still great debate about the how of negotiations). As for the U.S. airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities advocated by some neocons, including Joshua Muravchik in FP, Takeyh says the chances went from 0.01 percent to 0 with Gatess nomination. In his Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Gates said that though he was not optimistic about discussions with the Islamic Republic, he would counsel against military action, except as a last resort.
The War on Terror
Gates is a Cold Warrior, and his outlook on the war on terror mimics his experience in facing down the Soviet Union. He has said that [t]errorism is a global challenge that will take many forms and many years to defeat or contain, but he dismisses the idea that the threat can be eradicated completely. With that outlook, hes not expected to rock the boat in Washington. Dont look for any deviation from current national security priorities and strategies in the fight against terrorism. Ditto military commissions, the U.S. detainee policy, Guantnamo Bay, and the application of U.S. military power around the world. If anything, expect Gates to push for improved intelligence capabilities.
Revolution in Military Affairs
Gates was hired for one job and one job only: fixing Iraq. Attempting to transform the military into a leaner, better-networked fighting force was a hallmark of outgoing Secretary Donald Rumsfelds tenure, and many analysts, including Andrew Krepinevich at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, dont expect Gates to prioritize military transformation with Rumsfelds single-minded fervor. But Noah Shachtman, editor of DefenseTech.org, doubts Gates will change course. At this point he says, [transformation has] become Pentagon orthodoxy.
Another major factor: A lack of time. Gates is likely looking at no more than two years at the Pentagon. (As one defense analyst told the San Francisco Chronicle, It takes two years to learn how to find the mens room.) The next DoD budget has already been drafted, leaving Gates just one fiscal year to make any major changes. Simply getting more boots on the ground in order to ease deployment problems in Afghanistan and Iraq may be enough. If Mr. Gates could just start the process of increasing the size of the military, says Gerecht, then his tenure would be a success.
How Gates views China, says strategic planner Thomas P.M. Barnett, is the most important question one can ask of him. The job of the secretary of defense is to translate policy choices into budgets, notes Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studiesand China policy plays a leading role in shaping budget and procurement choices in the United States. Taiwan has been neglecting its own defense recently, says Cordesman, even as China is growing stronger militarily and economically. Gates testified privately last week that China seeks to integrate Taiwan peacefully if possible. Nevertheless, he affirmed the Bush administrations policy of maintaining capabilities to resist Chinas use of force or coercion against Taiwan. No shift in China policy would mean no significant shift of resources from the Big War crowd to the much-stressed Army and Marines, says Barnett.
Gates has supported a missile defense system since the Star Wars days of the Reagan administration, and he remains strongly in favor as of his confirmation hearing this month. If we have something that has some capability, its better than having no capability, he said in his testimony. In the mid-1990s, Gates and Rumsfeld both headed congressional panels to investigate intelligence on the ballistic missile threat to the United States. Gatess work, which found no evidence of politicization, was rejected, and the more hawkish Rumsfeld convinced congress that intelligence analysts were downplaying the threat. Arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis told FP that Gates is a wonk, not a hack, and therefore his report was more nuanced and balanced than the Rumsfeld effort. His professionalism can only improve the decision-making out of the E-ring, added Lewis, a critic of missile defense spending.
Unlike Rumsfeld, who took a confrontational view of Kim Jong Ils nuclear arsenal, Gates will likely be more of a moderate who is said to have a deep understanding of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Hes taking the position of the reformed hawk: In the mid-1990s, Gates wrote that the only option for containing the threat from North Korea was to destroy its nuclear facilities. But at his Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on December 5, Gates said, Ive changed my view on how to deal with North Korea. I believe that clearly the best course is the diplomatic one. That kind of attitude may be the most welcome difference between Gates and the man he was asked to replace.
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