I was a huge fan of Robert Gates when he was president of Texas A&M–I know a good writer should never take off on a digression in the middle of the first sentence, but, shouldn’t the Aggies, almost a year after Gates’ departure, be more interested in replacing the president than in replacing the football coach?–so it comes as no surprise to me that Gates, as Secretary of Defense, has taken charge of war policy, for the better. Here is Michael Hirsh, writing in Newsweek:
To scant notice in recent weeks, Gates seems to have scored a significant victory in the Bush administration’s internal fight over troop withdrawals from Iraq, and he has been perhaps the key player in quelling moves toward a military confrontation with Iran. You may remember all the hullabaloo over Gen. David Petraeus’s report on the Iraq “surge” a couple of weeks ago. By most media accounts, he came, he testified and then he conquered Capitol Hill. Not so. In the days after the testimony, Gates appears to have won a crucial debate behind the scenes with Petraeus and administration hard-liners who were pushing to keep U.S. deployments at current or at least “pre-surge” levels for the foreseeable future. The proof is that he seems to be bringing the president onto his side (in his speech on the Petraeus report, Bush suggested that he wants the reductions to go deeper, as well).
Good for Gates! Here’s what I blogged about him in November 2006, when Bush named him to replace the egregiously egotistical, territorial, and overrated Donald Rumsfeld:
In my opinion, President Bush could not have made a better choice. Gates is the opposite of Donald Rumsfeld, a man whose decisions were predetermined by his neoconservative ideology. The most important thing to know about Gates is that he is a highly trained observer who has spent his whole life assessing complex and sometimes impenetrable situations, from the Soviet Union during the Cold War to the culture at Texas A&M. He is the opposite of an ideologue–someone who reaches conclusions based on facts, not on belief.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that this is just another Bush croneyism appointment. Gates is very close to George Bush, all right–the first George Bush. I would be surprised if the elder Bush did not have a great deal to do Gates’ appointment. (There always was bad blood between Bush 41 and Rumsfeld.) He will serve Bush 43 well, if Bush will let him. Gates describes himself in the book [From the Shadows, his memoir/history of the Cold War and his years at the CIA] as someone who would tell his bosses at the agency what they didn’t want to hear, sometimes to his detriment, and I have no doubt he will do the same at Defense.
I do know this: The era of choosing generals for their willingness to parrot the White House line about Iraq is over. One of the biggest mistakes of the war was the subordination of war policy to political opportunism. Bob Gates will never be a party to that. Bush could not have made a better appointment.
I’d like to brag about being right, but anybody who had met Bob Gates would have known that this was a sure thing.