(Via VLaszlo in Quick Hits.) Sixteen years ago, President Clinton had some politically costly run-ins with the Pentagon early on in his presidency. Both "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and Somalia were damaging to him in his first couple months, with Pentagon officials even referring to that time period as the "taming" of Bill Clinton. Obama appears to be doing whatever he can to avoid a similar fate, even if it means keeping a large number of Pentagon political appointees for an undetermined period of time:
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is asking many of the Bush administration's 250 Pentagon political appointees to remain on the job until the incoming Obama administration finds replacements -- a move designed to prevent a leadership vacuum with U.S. troops engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The unusual request by Mr. Gates, whom President-elect Barack Obama has asked to continue in his Cabinet post, ensures that key policy positions will not be left to "acting" subordinates as typically occurs when political appointees are directed to resign during a presidential transition.
"I have received authorization from the president-elect's transition team to extend a number of Department of Defense political appointees an invitation to voluntarily remain in their current positions until replaced," Mr. Gates said in a Friday e-mail.
The chance to stay is "available to all willing political appointees with the exception of those who are contacted individually and told otherwise," he said.
Now, not al of the 250 political appointees are staying, as at least the second and third top positions at the Pentagon are being replaced. Also, it is likely that those who will stay on will be replaced fairly soon, given the wording of the email. However, given that Obama named his cabinet faster than any other President-elect, this slower transition at the Pentagon is indicative of a different strategy for the Department of Defense than for other areas of the government.
Now, if I am right, and Obama is engaging in a slower Pentagon transition in order to try and avoid politically costly fights with the Pentagon ala the early months of Clinton's Presidency, I am not sure why keeping either Gates or Bush political appointees on is the right approach. It seems to me that if anyone is likely to attempt sabotage of the early months of the Obama administration, it will be Bush political appointees at the Pentagon. In fact, this is already taking place in the form of the expansive military budget increases proposed by the Gates-led Pentagon. Such increases would seriously hamper Obama's ability to re-direct federal spending away from Bush-era patterns. Keeping on the people who have proposed said increases does not strike me as a good sign.
So, perhaps something else is going on with the slow transition at the Pentagon. Maybe it really just is wha the Washington Times says it is: the Obama team doesn't want any vacant positions, so they are asking people to stay on until the day their replacement arrives. I'm not sure why it is taking so long for those replacements to arrive. Whatever is going on, I can't say I am happy with any Bush political appointees sticking around. They caused the problem, now it is time for them to go.