Robert Gates ’65 to continue as Secretary of Defense

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December 2, 2008

12:44 AM

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ’65 will keep his post at the Pentagon.

At a press conference yesterday, President-elect Barack Obama announced his security appointments, which included the retention of Gates.

According to government professor Lawrence Wilkerson, Obama was able to accomplish several goals with his reappointment of Gates.

“It’s a very interesting move by President-elect Obama,” Wilkerson said. “It’s a very astute political move because in one fell swoop, he does several things that are key.”

Obama successfully brought a prominent — but not oppositional — Republican into the team, Wilkerson said. According to the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Obama was also able to establish a sense of continuity in the Defense Department’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and military policy in general. Finally, Wilkerson said the choice to keep Gates onboard allows Obama to bring whomever he prefers into the position of defense secretary sometime in the near future.

Wilkerson said that Gates was a transitional figure, and not one that is expected to stay on for too long in his new position. He added that transitional figures are frequently appointed during a state of crisis.

“I can’t think of a prominent minister other than [Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of War Henry] Stemson who has been asked to stay on in a change of parties,” Wilkerson said. “But I also can’t think of a set of circumstances like the ones we currently confront in history.”

Wilkerson cited the current economic crisis and the overextension of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as key circumstances that likely led Obama to select a transitional figure.

“I think it’s fair to say that America has never confronted the specific challenges that it confronts today,” he said. “And that’s not [as] profound as the fact that these challenges are republic-ending, empire-ending challenges. We’re talking about serious repercussions if we don’t meet any of these challenges.”

He also mentioned that keeping Gates as a transitional figure was a good move simply because of the size of the Defense Department and the power that it holds in Washington.

“Practically speaking and politically speaking, it’s a good move,” he said.

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