Gates’s Next Mission
By David Ignatius
Thursday, August 7, 2008; A21
Defense Secretary Bob Gates has been talking recently about how to rebuild America’s national security architecture so that it fits the 21st century. The next president should think about assigning Gates to fix what he rightly says is broken.
Gates is an anomaly in this lame-duck administration. He is still firing on all cylinders, working to repair the damage done at the Pentagon by his arrogant and aloof predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. Gates has restored accountability in the military services by firing the secretaries of the Army and Air Force when they failed to respond forthrightly to problems. And he has been an early and persuasive internal administration critic of U.S. military action against Iran.
Amazingly for a defense secretary, Gates has been arguing against the “creeping militarization” of foreign policy.
In a speech last month, he urged more funding for the State Department and other civilian agencies, saying they have been “chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long.” In Washington, that’s almost unheard of — sticking your neck out for the other guy — and it’s one reason Gates’s reputation has been steadily rising.
Among both Democrats and Republicans, there’s now talk that Gates should stay on as secretary of defense in a new administration. It’s a little early for speculation about the next Cabinet, but here’s another idea:
Why not appoint Gates to head a special commission to revise the basic framework of the National Security Act of 1947? He knows all the pieces of this puzzle — having run the CIA and worked at the National Security Council earlier in his career. A hypothetical Gates commission would have two basic missions:
· Fix the NSC structure so that it is designed to deal with today’s “soft power” challenges rather than the old Cold War problems. Specifically, a Gates commission should think about how to focus money and expertise on the nation-building problems that now fall between the cracks of the interagency system.
“Over the long term, we cannot kill or capture our way to victory,” Gates warned last month. “What the Pentagon calls ‘kinetic’ operations should be subordinate to measures to promote participation in government, economic programs to spur development, and efforts to address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies.”
. . . there are more people serving in military bands than in the entire State Department.
Secretary Gates has an extraordinary background and both the connections and respect from both parties to finally bring some sense and sensibility to our foreign and military policy. Barack Obama, assuming he becomes the next president (and that may be too big an assumption), has exactly the kind of inquisitive intellect that would find Gates appealing in a continuing role.
Certainly there are men who transcend the politics of party, serving several presidents. Alan Greenspan comes to mind, although his mention sets my teeth a bit on edge. Google the issue and you go all the way back to 1912 for an example, but still, Kissinger and a few other lesser lights fill the bill.
Bob Gates is too valuable, too young and too available to put out to pasture. Let’s hope we avail ourselves of his considerable wisdom in a time of dangerously partisan politics.