The Robert Gates Clock Is Ticking (Or Maybe Not)

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Set your countdown clocks to 2011, when Robert Gates, Defense Secretary to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, plans to step down. “It would be a mistake to wait until January 2012,” he tells Foreign Policy, in an exclusive interview. “This is not the kind of job you want to fill in the spring of an election year.”

[UPDATE: Fred Kaplan, the author of the Foreign Policy article, emails to point out that Gates may be bluffing. Indeed Gates has done it before. Writes Kaplan:

Gates did not tell me that he is leaving in 2011. He said that he’d like to leave, and thinks he should leave, in 2011. However, I begin the piece by noting that, in my last interview with Gates, at the end of 2007, I asked him if he’d consider staying on in the next administration. He replied, at the time, that the circumstances under which he’d do that were “inconceivable.” So when I interviewed him for FP last month, I asked him what changed. He confessed that he’d been engaging in a “covert action.” He was telling everybody that he really wanted to go, in hopes that this would discourage the next president from asking him to stay – but all along he knew that if the next president did ask him to stay, he would.

Read the entire Kaplan piece here.]

Considering that the 2012 election season is set to begin at the end of 2010, this may suggest an early 2011 exit for Gates. Gates departure may be felt less on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where there are many cooks in the kitchen, than in his personal crusade to bring some level of rationality to the defense budget. It’s an uphill slog that now depends significantly on Gates own credibility and star power. Fareed Zakaria asks today, “Can anyone seriously question Gates’s ideas on the merits?” Probably not. But with Gates gone, it will be that much easier for the approriators and the lobbyists to gain, once again, the upper hand.

Dwight Eisenhower was right, after all. The military industrial complex presents a “grave danger.” Aside from Gates, I can think of few who might be in a position to take it on directly.

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