Slow Transition At The Pentagon

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 12:31

(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.

Chris Bowers :: Slow Transition At The Pentagon

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i think Obama is definitely influenced by the lessons of Clinton (4.00 / 1)
Not surprising since Clinton in the only Democratic President in Obama's adult memory. I think he wants to replicate the successful parts of the Clinton presidency while avoiding the errors. I kind of see Gates in the "only Nixon could go to China" role where Obama thinks to get the military to shift gears he thinks he needs Gates to deliver that message to the rest of the department. But it puts a lot of faith in Gates because you're right, he's also ideally situated to foment dissent against the O administration's military wishes.

The long-term is important (4.00 / 1)
Bush raced into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and had no coherent plans for what comes next, leading to chaos.  Obama shouldn't make the same mistake here.

If the Washington Times report is correct, I have no problem  with this sort of plan, especially since it seems like it is not a blanket invitation to stay and that some appointees will be told specifically that they are not welcome, like neocon Eric Edelman.

Also, I think that the bigger concern is, and should be, opposition from the non-civilian leadership.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

Olive Branch to the military brass perhaps? (0.00 / 0)

Isn't It Obvious, In This Post-Warren World? (4.00 / 2)
We're being rolled.

What else is new?

I mean, seriously.  By any objective standard, the Bush Administration is the worst thing to happen to the US military at least since Vietnam, which means in the living memory of anyone serving today.  They'd be crazy not to be wildly embracing change.

So, they are crazy.  And Obama's stance is the same as it is with all crazy people on the other side: capitulation in the name of "inclusion" and "getting things done."

So what if they're the wrong things?  They're getting them done, by cracky!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Slow Transition At The Pentagon (4.00 / 1)
As noted in my previous diary, the only "Kudos" that I give to Dr. Gates was his ability to reverse the Air Force decision on the Boeing Northrop Grumman Air Tanker deal. If President-Elect Obama can keep the promises that he made in his campaign by not only replacing the department heads but also ensuring that all the department heads adopt his policies, then I am all for it.  Below are the promises that Obama made on defense spending, Friday, August 29, 2008.

Ø I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems.
Ø I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems.
Ø And I will institute an independent defense priorities board to ensure that the Quadrennial Defense Review is not used to justify unnecessary spending.
Ø Third, I will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons.  To seek that goal, I will not develop new nuclear weapons, I will seek a ban on the production of fissile material,
Ø and I will negotiate with Russia to take our ICBM's off hair-trigger alert and to achieve deep cuts in our nuclear arsenal

We must ensure that those department heads President Obama appoints to replace the old cronies of Bush and Cheney at the Department of Defense, must work towards fulfilling the above promises.  

Initial steps have extra momentum (0.00 / 0)
and so I share your concerns.

The logic behind retaining Gates in the does make some sense. Especially when you consider just how much rebuilding has to be done in the foreign policy apparatus outside of the military.

I also don't see how appointing people lower in the department doesn't set up future in fighting if the overall direction of the department isn't set first. So keeping these people around is less of an issue then getting some idea of the eventual direction.

Now Obama's team may be addressing all of my concerns and a dynaic working group may be in place. I just don't know. But my cocerns would be greatly dimished if just on occation I heard the name Wes Clark mentioned in this context.  

Most discussion of Clark (0.00 / 0)
Notes that there is a rule requiring that he be out of uniform for ten years before he can be appointed Secretary of Defense.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
I am not (0.00 / 0)
proposing that Clark be the Secertary presumptive.

All I am saying that my concerns about the size and place of the military in the foreign policy structure would be diminished if I knew Wes Clark was involved in the discussion.

[ Parent ]
I should add that (4.00 / 1)
If Obama were intent on appointing Clark as soon as eligible, then keeping on Gates is probably the most politically viable path towards that end, since no capable person would want to be a short-term lame duck.  And of course the Obama team can't say that is their plan (if it is) because it would completely undermine Gates to the point that he wouldn't want to stay.

To be clear, I'm not claiming that is what Obama wants to do.  It's within the realm of possibility is all that I am saying.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

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