I first saw this reported by Ben Smith for Politico.com and was a bit surprised. Robert Gates is the current Secretary of Defense for the Obama Administration, and had been for George W. Bush as well. This could be a crucial decision made by Gates as much of the attention in Obama’s presidency is now focused on the two wars started by the Bush Administration, but expected to be finished by Obama.

Robert Gates, pillar of Obama’s national security policy, tells Fred Kaplan he’ll leave some time next year, ensuring that the decision about replacing him is shadowed by Obama’s re-election campaign.

There’s no obvious replacement for Gates, certainly none with the same capacity to silence Republican attacks on the administration’s security policy. The most politically logical replacement may be HIllary Clinton.

[Source: Politico (cited from Foreign Policy Magazine)]

Ben Smith is right. This could be yet another thing brought to the table by Republicans to admonish Obama and his handling of National Security issues, especially if a Democrat is appointed to take Gates’ place. Appointing Hillary Clinton, as Smith suggested, seems to me to be more of a tumultuous effort. This would involve having to find someone else to head State Department. Two crucial changes in two of the arguably most important cabinet positions could be costly politically and as far as his policies are concerned as well.

Robert Gates’s position as Secretary of Defense is about the only thing the Republicans haven’t extensively chastised Obama for in his first two years in the Oval Office. The RNC is certainly looking at this news and salivating.

Citing two separate interviews, the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out that Gates and General David Petraeus have differing views on the likelihood of pulling out of Afghanistan and a withdrawal time frame:  . . .

”There is no question in anybody’s mind that we are going to begin drawing down troops in July of 2011,” Mr Gates told the Los Angeles Times.

But General Petraeus has refused to be bound by the deadline, reserving the right to seek a delay if necessary.

Asked in a separate interview whether he could recommend a delay to Mr Obama because of conditions on the ground, he replied: ”Certainly, yeah.”

”I think the President has been quite clear in explaining that it’s a process, not an event, and that it’s conditions-based,” General Petraeus told NBC television’s Meet the Press.

Obama will have to choose someone who’s willing to move beyond partisan lines and do what is right to bring our troops home. The U.S. needs to be out of Iraq and Afghanistan; we’ve long overstayed any welcome we had. You can walk up to several people on any American street today and ask them "Who are we fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan?" You will get several different answers. Why? Because the American public doesn’t know. It’s a fundamental problem if there is not a general consensus on who we are sending our soldiers to fight and die for.

These two wars are still out of hand, cost a ton of taxpayer money, and thousands of our men and women are putting themselves in harm’s way.

When Robert Gates leaves, Obama must appoint someone who will have and execute a clear exit strategy for both countries.

Obama’s presidency has been marred with unfulfilled expectations and mediocrity, failing to capitalize on the opportunities he has been given. His majority in Congress, granted, has not helped him much. In spite of them he has an obligation as president to fulfill the promises he made to the people who elected him — mainly the progressive base.
I want to say to him:

Don’t neglect your base, Mr. President. As you have seen yourself, the powerful grassroots progressive movement mobilized support for you in order to give you the tools to make this a better country for all of us to live in.

A comprehensive end to the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan is something that is very much a possibility for Obama to do. As much as I hate to say this, don’t let them turn into another Vietnam. George W. Bush started this mess, and by default, Mr. President, you have to clean it up. You promised to end these conflicts, now let’s see it happen. It starts with leadership.

This veered a bit off-track but I think I’ve made my point.

[Photo: Defense Secretary Robert Gates visiting Ft. Bragg, N.C., October 2008. (source: U.S. Army via Flickr)]