I’ve been reading less political news lately. I’m trying to focus on building stuff and learning new ways to build stuff, and that’s crowded most of the political feeds out of my reader. But I still do check in a little every day, and one thing I’m seeing a lot of is effusive praise for the defense budget reforms that President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have proposed. Here’s where it’s important to remember that Gates was President Bush’s Secretary of Defense and that Barack Obama asked him to stay on.
Here’s Matthew Yglesias on Gates yesterday:
This is the move that justifies the decision to keep Robert Gates on at the Pentagon. Any new Defense Secretary, no matter how brilliant, would have had to have spent his first three months in office building relationships with the top military commanders and focusing on filling out the DOD civilian staff. Only a Secretary who’s already been in office could have the ability to propose sweeping change.
As Fred Kaplan reminded us yesterday, when Gates was nominated by President Bush in 2006, he recommended exactly the sorts of reforms that were announced this week. So now we can look back and consider the idea that President Obama offered Gates the opportunity to keep his job if he was willing to make those reforms.
Last November, few people seemed to think that Obama may keep Gates because they shared common goals. Here’s Katie Couric expressing a common view you saw in the media — that Obama kept Gates to manufacture credibility on national security issues. Plenty of liberals suspected that keeping Gates was a way for Obama to backpedal on his campaign promises on Iraq — or that Gates would influence Obama to break those promises. Given the shape of things that have happened since, none of those theories have turned out to be correct.
Operating under the assumption that President Obama doesn’t have a plan that serves his own goals rarely leads to solid analysis.