The Gulf Between Robert Gates And The Obama Administration

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 9, 2009

It is reflected in the following passage from this profile by Michael Crowley:

. . . The day Gates departed Washington on his plane, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had suggested that a decision about General Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops might wait until after a November 7 runoff election in Afghanistan. To his displeasure, Gates had learned about this new spin in the papers. He also was not impressed by the substance of it: “We’re not just going to sit on our hands, waiting for the outcome of this election and for the emergence of a government in Kabul,” Gates told reporters en route from Honolulu to Tokyo, where he was due to meet with his Japanese counterpart. His reedy Kansan voice barely cut through the engines’ dull roar. For a veteran of so many foreign policy crises, Gates seems oddly shy–he tends to avoid eye contact while speaking, looking to the side or into the middle distance. While Afghanistan’s fraud-ridden elections had “complicated the situation,” Gates continued, “the reality is, it’s not going to be simple, it’s not going to be complicated one day and simple the next.” Government legitimacy in Afghanistan would take time, he said, and “the president will have to make his decisions in the context of that evolutionary process.” Translation: We can’t wait for perfect conditions, Rahm. Let’s get on with it.

Perhaps wanting to cover Obama’s right flank, Crowley spends much of his piece discussing the instances in which Gates–as an intelligence analyst, a DDCI, and a DCI–got Soviet intentions wrong, as though an official who served for decades in the national security establishment (Obama is the eighth President Gates has worked for) would not occasionally get things wrong in crafting and delivering intelligence assessments (one wonders whether or when Crowley will write critiques of Lester Thurow, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Arthur Schlesinger).

Crowley’s recital of Gates’s career during the Cold War–a largely honorable career, despite what Crowley has chosen to focus on–is rather immaterial to coming policy debates, of course. What matters most is how the Obama Administration will react to General McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan, and where Gates will come down. It would appear that he is going to defy the wishes of much of the Left, and basically advise the President to go all-in on Afghanistan. Perhaps it ought to come as no surprise, therefore, that he is beginning to catch heat from center-left pundits and writers.

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