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Column: Obama Wise To Retain Robert Gates As Defense Secretary

This story was written by Christopher Linebaugh, The Battalion


Choosing a cabinet is one of the most important decisions a president-elect will make, and it can greatly influence the direction of an administration. Recently, president-elect Barack Obama has announced his decision to keep former president of Texas A&M University Robert Gates as the defense secretary. Gates has proved to be a capable leader who makes decisions based on the best interest of the country rather than succumbing to political agendas, and he will prove to be a pillar of strength in the administration.

Ever since Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary in 2006, his ability to transcend partisan politics and ideologies has won him favor with both Democrats and Republicans. Gates showed his down-to-earth attitude from the beginning. During his nomination hearing in 2006, when asked if the United States waswinning the war in Iraq, he responded with a simple "No, sir." Although today he would probably answer "yes" to this question, considering the decline in casualties and greater responsibility taken by the Iraqi troops under his leadership, this response shows his ability to think realistically rather than politically.

This sense of independence is a much-needed virtue in a defense secretary and provides a sharp contrast from his predecessor, Rumsfeld.

"He was brought in to replace Rumsfeld because he was seen as a no-nonsense person," said Michael T. Koch, a political science professor at Texas A&M who specializes in the intersection of domestic and international politics. "Gates' track record is one of being a pragmatist. He has worked both under Bush and under Clinton as head of the CIA, and has kept partisan politics of whatever his job has been."

To make matters easier, Obama and Gates also seem to be aligned with each other on key foreign policy issues. Secretary Gates has advocated dispatching additional troops to Afghanistan, just has Obama has, as well as presenting similar viewpoints on other issues. While Gates was still president at Texas A&M, he was a member of a bipartisan panel called the Iraq Study Group ISG that assessed the situation in Iraq and made policy recommendations. The ISG's 2006 report advocated several positions that coincide with Obama's outlook such as actively engaging Iran and Syria in negotiations. This accordance between Gates and Obama will allow the administration to come out of the gate with a sense of focus and direction.

When Obama takes office, he will have a vast array of problems to deal with and will need every advantage possible. Retaining Gates will help provide a smooth transition during a period where our nation is entrenched in two wars and dealing with other problems such as Pakistan.

"Secretary Gates stays out of the fray of politics, and keeping him would be one less worry for Obama," Koch said.

Considering that Gates has been an efficient and effective defense secretary, it would be illogical to risk the stability that will be obtained from keeping him in the position.

"I don't think there's much denying that by any index you want to use it's a better situation in Iraq than when he took the position," said Jason Parker, a history professor at A&M who specializes in American foreign relations. "If what you want is continuity, then you keep the people in who helped put it together."

Having a reliable defense secretary is crucial now more than ever. When Obama begins to deal with the foreign policy problems facing the nation he will need honest and trustworthy advisors. It is comforting to know that Gates will remain defense secretary and will continue to serve his country in the same efficient and pragmatic manner that he has for the past couple of years.

Great Gates moments:(UWIRE) -- 1966: Began public service after being recruited to join the CIA out of college.

1991-1993: Served as director of the CIA.

1999-2001: Served as interim dean of George Bush School of Government and Public Service.

2002-2006: Served as President of Texas A&M University from Aug. 1, 2002 until being sworn in as secretary of defense.

2006: Served as a member on the Iraq Study Group.

Dec. 18, 2006: Sworn in as the 22nd secretary of defense.

Nov. 26, 2008: It was leaked that President-elect Barack Obama will keep Gates as secretary of defense for his upcoming term.

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