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November 25, 2008


I can't believe that no one has a comment about this.

I don't have much of one, just this: it may be hard to find someone with the background and experience to be qualified for CIA director who isn't, if anything, more compromised than Brennan.

Gates is in, though!

I think it makes http://acreofindependence.com/2008/11/25/secretary-gates-stays/>perfect sense to keep Secretary Gates in place; Obama is just being pragmatic. Gates has not been an ideologue the past two years. He has demonstrated competence, held subordinates accountable, and proven adept at operating in DC.

Most importantly of all, keeping a steady hand at DOD gives the new administration cover to focus on an ambitious domestic agenda.

If Obama is going to spend political capital, he will do so by expanding entitlement programs, especially Health Care, not by appeasing the idealists who see his election as the repudiation of every last second of the past 8 years.

Yep. I've already weighed in on Gates: I think that if Obama wants to get a huge stimulus package, cap and trade, and health care through Congress, he needs drama, or even just a learning curve, at DoD like he needs a hole in the head. I'm also glad that the reporting I've seen sounds as though it's temporary, and that he really wants to go home. A year or two: great. More: not so much.

I just thought I would point out that Spencer Ackerman, who has as much credibility as any journalist I can think of on issues of national defense and intelligence, was extremely ambivalent about the issues Glenn, Digby, et al were raising.

I really hope that there are better reasons than some ill-informed bloggers complaining about Brennan, for him to withdraw from consideration.

All of these bloggers were full of indignation over Brennan but couldn't come up with too many viable alternatives other ridiculous choices such as Wesley Clark, who has not intelligence experience whatsoever.

They've turned this into a position that requires political purity.

The President defines what is and what is not acceptable behavior not the DCI or NCI.

Ackerman seems to thing that everyone else was accusing Brennan of being a chief architect of the torture policies. They weren't. They were accusing him of publicly supporting them, which he did (with the exception of waterboarding--whoop di do). He was, as far as I can tell, being a company man, not a criminal mastermind or villain. And Ackerman knows a lot, but he knows less than Horton, & is slightly overly inclined for my tastes to: (1) gush about Obama's improvements in this area before Obama actually delivers (2) oppose any form of accountability for lower-ranking soldiers and CIA officials--leaving aside whether we want to endorse the "just following orders" defense, in some cases the low ranking sorts exceeded the illegal orders & there have been zero prosecutions in those cases either.

Also, I suspect some blogs are especially twitchy about Brennan after: (1) the telecom immunity flip flop on Obama's part, which Brennan supported for months before Obama did; (2) the various leaks about Obama's interrogation policies that were attributed to intelligence people close to the transition--not that those leaks are attributable to Brennan; I've no idea; but they demonstrated a pretty obvious effort by the intelligence community to pressure Obama not to change things too much. So, liberals pressured back, and a good thing.

This "Obama will be the one making the decisions" argument about every appointment has some merit, but it only gets you so far. I do not think that Brennan would have defied clear orders from the President to shut down the black sites, stop rendering people, and comply with the military field manual, but that doesn't mean the CIA director is irrelevant to what the CIA does. Come on; the President doesn't directly manage the entire executive branch on a daily basis, and high level appointments matter.

Well, back to my original comment: if not Brennen, then who?

It usually doesn't work to put an outsider in at the top of an agency to clean house. The rank and file below will just unite in opposition and then you get an agency that doesn't work at all until the outsider is finally repelled. My guess is that the CIA, of all government agencies, is the one that would be most inclined to respond this way to an outsider and the most effective at responding this way ,too.

So if Obama wants to have control over the CIA, he has to appoint someone who is to some degree an insider at the agency, at least knowledgable enough about its workings to know where bodies can be and are buried, know who will obstruct and how, know who will help and how, know what tools he/she has for leverage and so on.

So the choice of Brennen was actually pretty shrewd. Maybe Brennen can suggest a second choice.

This is such a common phrase when talking about bureaucratic politics that it struck me as bitterly ironic that the usual sense doesn't necessarily apply in this case:

knowledgable enough about its workings to know where bodies can be and are buried

It makes me ill that we are aren't just working with a metaphor here, but real bodies in real graves. Literally, not figuratively.

I'm surprised there is not more hue and cry from the left with Gates. Obama is being surprisingly pragmatic. That's change I just might believe in . . .

but did anybody see him standing there as if he were in the White House press room complete with an "Office of the President-Elect" sign? You mean he didn't fire the guy (or gal) that came up with that silly quasi-presidential seal? Does the guy have no shame or respect for the office? What's next, he renames his plane Air Force 1.5?

I know it's somewhat petty, but not really. Like him or not, there is an actual sitting president until January. Show some respect and knowledge of the Constitution, you constitutional scholar. As if there were an "office of the president-elect" in there somewhere. In fact, he's not even the president-elect now that I think about it until December . . . (and yes, compared with certain extra-constitutional issues this pales in comparison and is simply very annoying).

but did anybody see him standing there as if he were in the White House press room complete with an "Office of the President-Elect" sign?


I can understand some annoyance with the petty symbolism on the part of those who prefer that the other candidate had won, but I don't think in this case Obama and his staff are doing this out of pure hubris.

We are in a difficult spot here because of the economic crisis. I don't think anybody really wants a repetition of the Hoover-FDR transition in 1932. Obama does not have formal power to do anything about the current crisis (which seems very unlikely to remain static for the next 2 months), but the actual President has record low approval numbers and thus essentially no ability to either get things through Congress or to use the bully pulpit of the WH to influence events. His "press conference" with Hank Paulson on the steps of the Treasury, recorded by a small audience of reporters with nobody else around to be seen was a pathetic demonstration of how little Bush matters any more.

So what is Obama supposed to do? Just twiddle his thumbs until Jan 20th? In circumstances where some symbolic demonstration of leadership has psychological value to the markets and thus the broader economy, it seems to me that Obama is doing everything he can to play a constructive role by showing the flag so to speak without stepping over the line into 2 Presidents at once territory.

And that is bound to be a very tricky game to play with no clear rules and little in the way of historical precedent to draw upon. We just don't have that many past examples of a President elect waiting to replace a departing incumbent of the opposite party while in the middle of a crisis.

Wonkie, I share your concern. An outsider will have to be a genius, and an insider is likely to be terribly compromised.

I can understand some annoyance with the petty symbolism on the part of those who prefer that the other candidate had won,

At least we agree it's petty symbolism. I am way beyond the election. Part of my makeup is a real respect for the office (which is partly why I'm past the election) and I therefore get more than a little annoyed when the office is ignored or .

I expect Obama to get off the ground running. He has to. He can do that without disrespecting the office. There is an entire part of the U.S. Code set aside for transitions. No need to do anything different than in the past. He can do it quietly, in coordination with the president (or not) and get ready. But he can't (or shouldn't) create new offices out of whole cloth or act as if he's president right now.

In a perfect world, there would be a joint press conference after consultation where both POTUS and POTUS to be would be of one mind on the transition issues and crises like the one we are in.

I'm surprised there is not more hue and cry from the left with Gates.

So am I. I guess no one really expects (a) a Democratic President to exercise full control over the military (b) Obama to actually change anything about how the US military's been operating over the psst 8 years.

It's still disappointing, though.

Actually I think the gaes situation is somewhat analogous to the Brennen situation. To put a new guy in charge right off the bat could create gridlock and chaos, si it probably better to keep Gates for a while. That doesn't mean Obam isn't going to be the boss or that he isn't actually going to change things. Gates shows every indicatin of being a team player and a professional; he will so as his Commander a nd Chief directs he to do. Also indications are that he doesn't want the job for very long and it will be much easier for Obama to bring about changes in the military later down the road. Right now it appears that Obama is replacing manhy of the people immediately below and around Gates with people more to Obama's liking. When Gates leaves there will be people at the top who are Obama appointees who will support Gates's replacement.

There is a post about this over at Political Animal.

There is a post about this over at Political Animal.

Which presumably takes the usual Political Animal position of Democratic Cringe.

Well, I don't know what you mean but that. It's Steven Benen.

I get the impression that some leftie bloggers were hoping that Obama was Mr. Smith and that he was off to Washington to sweep out the old and fill the aadminstration with new faces.

Well that fantasy--the fantasy that newcomers can be the brooms that sweep out the old--is extraordinarily naive and a recipe for a botched, failed administration.

Obama is picking experienced people who are not so wedded to the past as to be incapable or unwilling to carry out his vision. They won't have to learn on the job and they are willing to head in a new direction.

That's as good as it gets in the real world. I'm not expressing cynicism here. I mean it. If he filled his adminstration with dead wood, company men, people who are mentally still in the nineties, timeservers, fronts for special interests, people with resumes but no actual competence, I'd be mad. But he hasn't. He had picked people who want to get things done and want to do the things that Obama wants and that we voted for.

That includes gates who wants to switch over to counter insurgency and opposed permenent bases and residual forces.

I am not expecting that I will be thrilled to death with everything Obama does. In fact I bet that I will be very disappointed at some point in the future when there are no investigations, no trials, and no perp marches of to jail. However, right now I think Obama is off to an excellent start.

FlyOnTheWall at TPM also approves of the Gates pick.

From the same author, this is a must-read. If you are going to carp and complain about what Obama is doing fine (and we should do that, along with haggling, nitpicking, and when necessary throwing brickbats), but from this point forward I refuse to take anything seriously written by a critic who hasn't read this piece.

Having said that, here is my dime-store summary of the argument FotW is making: Obama is aiming to drive a stake through the heart of Reaganism, but not at the level of policy, which may be why so many of his critics on the left are unhappy with what they see from his thus far.

Why is that?

Because the policies which are adopted when our govt. is run using a Reaganite agenda are symptoms. The political cause which underlies them (and guarantees that they will keep coming back) is the proposition that the govt. is lousy at doing things - that it is inherently incompetent and thus not to be trusted.

What Obama is doing is putting in place a more or less centrist govt. which is focused not on ideology, but on competence. On getting things done, and doing them effectively and efficiently and in a way which is visible to the public.

In the long run this is far more threatening to Reaganism than a mere temporary reversal of policy (which can be overturned by the next election), because it threatens to discredit the most basic premise upon which that political movement is based.

A country which trusts (based on actual experience of seeing it happen) that our govt. can be run in a competent fashion and which expects that it will be able to solve problems and make our lives better, is ipso facto a more progressive country.

In political terms, Obama is attacking causes rather than symptoms. If he is successful, nobody will be able to write that we are "a center-right country" and be taken seriously.

Here's a snip from Political Animal:Chris Bowers argued yesterday, "If Gates were kept on as Secretary of Defense, it apparently would also mean that all of his top advisors would also stay on." That, of course, matters quite a bit -- as reasonable as Gates is, his deputies have considerable influence on Pentagon decision-making, and they're not as inclined towards pragmatism as their boss.

It's encouraging, then, that while Gates appears to be staying on, his immediate team is likely to see some significant changes. The Washington Post reported earlier that, whether Gates takes on a short-term or long-term role in the Obama administration, "most of the deputies serving under him would be replaced."

And who are they being replaced with? The news is encouraging on this front, too.

Secretary Gates' deputy at the Pentagon is slated to be Richard Danzig, who was Navy secretary under President Clinton. The #3 (policy) will PROBABLY be Michele Flournoy, a Clinton administration veteran who was dual-hatted as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and threat reduction, and deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy.

If the report proves accurate, Flournoy will replace Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman, who, as Yglesias noted, is "Gates' most pernicious subordinate" and a former aide to Dick Cheney

I think that Left Turn is right.

A lot of the criticism of OPbama's picks is based on symbolism, not substance--Obama isn't making picks that have the right symbol significance to satisfy the more ideological profressives. he is however making substantive differences.

In the long run the best way to keep the Republicans at bay is to goven well. in my view competence beats purity.

From the article you linked to at FlyOnTheWall's Blog: "Obama is determined to demonstrate that competence is his prime criterion in selecting key officials."

Yet he's selected Robert Gates to continue as Defense Secretary.

What Obama is doing is putting in place a more or less centrist govt. which is focused not on ideology, but on competence. On getting things done, and doing them effectively and efficiently and in a way which is visible to the public.

Yet, he's selected Robert Gates to continue as Defense Secretary.

So, either Obama intends to run the war in Iraq on the same lines as Bush, and wants someone for Defense who will do that and tell the President exactly what Bush was told, and was looking for someone whose competence is in just that area - or the whole shtick about Obama "hiring for competence" is just wrong.

Because he's selected Robert Gates to continue as Defense Secretary, and dismiss all issues about the US military's breach of the Geneva Conventions, torture of prisoners, and staffing of gulags, as mere "ideological objections", if you like - Hilzoy evidently doesn't think these issues even worth discussing - but Gates was chosen by George W. Bush to run the Iraq conflict at a time when the only thing that mattered to Bush was that he shouldn't have to admit defeat and withdraw from Iraq - but every remotely competent military adviser, including Rumsfeld, said he'd have to.

So now Obama wants Gates? For competence? No.

I copied this from MyDD:

"Jon Soltz Backs Keeping Gates On At Defense
by Todd Beeton, Wed Nov 26, 2008 at 06:16:47 PM EST

Jon Soltz, the Co-Founder and Chair of VoteVets.org and vocal progressive, has a thoughtful piece over at HuffPo that argues that Obama's retention of Robert Gates at defense "works." That may not sound like the ringingest of endorsements but Soltz does make a good case for the wisdom of keeping Gates on.

The crux of Soltz's argument is that Gates does not represent a maintenance of the old Iraq policy but rather serves as a much needed bridge between Bush's and Obama's Iraq policies:

Now, with a new Commander in Chief with a very different view, Gates provides the perfect short-term bridge between the eras of pre-Iraq-redeployment and post-Iraq-redeployment. And, that seems to be what President-Elect Obama sees Gates as -- a civil servant who does the job he's tasked with, and does it well. Politically, it also gives some cover to Obama from the right, to use one of George W. Bush's team to carry out a dramatic change in policy. [...]

There is little time to spare here, as has been made clear by the timelines for redeployment that the Iraqis are calling for. By keeping Gates, the Department of Defense is the one place in government that will be spared the pains of leadership transition. Gates won't have to "hit the ground running," because he's already running. And now -- finally -- with a new mission from the top, Gates is well positioned to help Barack Obama keep the promises he made during his campaign.

And Soltz offers some reassurance to those who feel Gates would drive the Iraq policy to the right or onto some ideological neo-con track:

For those who worry that Gates will somehow drag President Obama to the right on Iraq, I think that fear is really unfounded. If the first question one must ask is, "Why is Obama picking Gates?" then the second question has to be "Why does Gates want to stay with Obama?"

It's not because Gates wants to preserve some neo-con view in the administration -- after all, Gates is a Bush I guy, a moderate who sees more eye-to-eye with Brent Scowcroft (an opponent of the war) than Paul Wolfowitz. It's not to preserve the current course, because Gates is smart enough to know"

Oops clipped of the part that says that Gates is too smart to think he can run a different agenda than Obama, Clinton and Jones.

All in all, I think that Obama's decsin to keep Gates is smart.

For those who worry that Gates will somehow drag President Obama to the right on Iraq, I think that fear is really unfounded

If Obama actively wanted Gates, and wasn't motivated (as Hilzoy suggested in an earlier post) by the fear that the US military wouldn't be loyal to him unless he picked someone they approved of as SecDef, then it's certainly unfounded that Gates can drag Obama "to the right": Obama is already there.

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