President elect Barack Obama most probably will announce the appointment of Robert Gates to be his Secretary of Defense. This decision will undoubtedly lead to complaints by many people who believed in electing Obama they were sending a message the current leaders of our Iraq-Afghanistan policy had to be replaced. However, there is some logic in the decision to retain a moderate Republican in office given that he has moved sharply away from previous behaviors by Donald Rumsfeld. Gates has made clear he is open to discussions with a variety of leaders in the Middle East and understands the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan can not be won solely by reliance on military action.
The key point in selecting Gates must be the acceptance by the secretary of defense that he now serves the Obama administration and must be in accord with its goals. If he can work in this manner, his retention adds a sense of continuity in what is going right as well as a recognition there must be change in the coming months. The first point will be whether or not US troops begin withdrawing next year and continue that process in the following year. The goal must be 2011 for the majority of soldiers being out of Iraq.