Robert Gates, the Right Man at a Very Late Time in the Game

Bob Gates has done a great many things right in his
brief tenure as Secretary of Defense. Not the least of those services has been
to bring a sense of appropriate mission to the Pentagon, where once the
Rumsfeld mission seemed in danger of replacing the Department of State.

War, as is correctly said, is failed diplomacy. Or
was it ‘diplomacy by other means?’ No
matter, the result is mostly the same, except for the profit to the
military-industrial chaps, who are mostly living quietly at home, shooting a few quail and musing
upon the assured future of their offspring.

Ignatius, Washington Post, Aug 7th) 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.

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.

Ignatius is right on. Either cause worthy enough to secure the man an
honored place in the history of a dishonorable administration. One would hope
that, if the Democrats nail down the next presidency, the thrown-out bathwater
will not include this particular public servant.

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’ reputation has been steadily rising.

Allowing that Obama (presume, presume) will be the
incomer and that he will want his own choice of Defense Secretary, Ignatius
makes the intriguing suggestion that Bob Gates would be the perfect man to
overhaul the raggedy, shopworn, patched-together national security apparatus.

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.

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.”. . a (new) report notes, there are more
people serving in military bands than in the entire State Department. Changing
that balance will require a different kind of NSC architecture.

If you weren’t noticing (as I was not noticing) that
the State Department has shrunk to the size of a band of trumpet-players rather than orchestrating upon the world stage, it’s time to smell the coffee.

No wonder Condi Rice
seems to be ever airborne to ever less purpose. She is doing everything other
than piloting the plane. Some wags would follow that by saying that piloting
the plane of State is her actual job and they would not be far wrong.

  • Fix
         the half-baked reform of the intelligence agencies. The 2004 law that
         created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was meant to
         deal with the intelligence failures that led to Sept. 11, but it instead
         has created more bureaucracy. Gates understands very well what’s wrong; he
         turned down the DNI job because he knew the structure was unwieldy. Gates
         has cobbled together an interim solution by working with old friends —
         DNI Mike McConnell, CIA Director Mike Hayden and Pentagon intelligence
         chief James Clapper. But the current arrangement is too dependent on
         personalities. A sign of continuing backroom friction is the rivalry over
         who will brief the presidential candidates.

The FBI was arguably at its most effective under the
iron-fisted and power-mad control of J. Edgar Hoover. A small structure,
closely held, with very short reporting structures served Hoover well and the
lesson there is not to expand our intelligence gathering community mindlessly,
but to find a better man than Hoover.

Currently, in lieu of a ‘better man,’ we have
sixteen agencies, 100,000 employees and almost $45 billion annual cost. They
stand around, bump into the furniture, point fingers, argue over territory and
are unable to get a single agent’s concern up the chain of (?) command in time
to stop 9-11 from happening. And that was Chertoffmichaeldhs
back in the ‘good old days’ before
Mike Chertoff became unlikely head of an agency devoted to overlaying the
standing, bumping, pointing and arguing with wondering, fretting, testifying
and looking foolish in case after case.

By comparison, Condi Rice’s State Department has
about 5,000 stateside employees. They are outnumbered 20 to 1 by the
intelligence community’s spooks, which may shine a light on why our foreign
policy is so spooky and unable to effect any other than belligerent

Bob Gates seems to think that’s an unmanageable
proportion in a modern-day world. Many of us eel he’s right and the challenge is
to realize that men of his capability, experience, wide-ranging relationships
and trust among partisans are few and far between. Far, so far and thus far, is
counted in decades rather than years.


Media comment:

2 thoughts on “Robert Gates, the Right Man at a Very Late Time in the Game

  1. This analysis is spot-on in some places, filled with the usual bromides in most. Look, the U.S. has been pursuing diplomacy since 2004, at least. That's what Rice has been doing. The U.S. has been far less belligerent than has been suggested. Sadly, most Democrats refuse to see that, say, the Iranians are in an expansionist mode and China is entering its Wilhelmine period.
    Further, the intelligence agencies are not only too big, they are, by and large, incompetent. 9/11 proved that. One of the sad legacies of the rather overdone and useless 9/11 Commission was to propose beureaucratic, 1930's solutions (such as layered intelligence services as you identified) to fight 5th Generation warfare. It was exactly the wrong answer.
    Gates has done some good things. However, stopping the production lines on the F-22 and F-35 are going to prove to be woefully shortsighted while China expands its air force and Russia rearms.

  2. It's a relief to know that I didn't fail to hit the usual bromides. I'm comforted to know that we have been using diplomacy 'at least since 2004.'
    Warm up the last of those F-16s, before we miss the opportunity for another arms race.

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