Ready for Clinton?
Defense and national security officials were surprised and upset that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates this week appointed former President Bill Clinton’s deputy secretary of defense to head the prestigious Defense Policy Board.
The post is an advisory position but the choice is significant because of who was not chosen, namely a Republican.
“With or without his approval, President Bush’s team has apparently begun the transition to the third Clinton administration,” said one official, in reference to the possible election of Hillary Rodham Clinton next year. “We can see now that with the possible exception of the president himself, their hearts and minds just never were into governing as Republicans.”
John J. Hamre, the president and chief executive officer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was named chairman of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee despite his past role as a key leader in Clinton defense policies that led to a hollowing-out of military forces through a combination of huge budget cuts and extended peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.
Mr. Hamre also presided over the restriction of U.S. missile defenses in support of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which Mr. Bush rejected, at a time when both short-range and long-range missile threats were a growing threat to the homeland, U.S. troops and allies abroad.
Mr. Hamre was criticized by conservatives for his pacifist religious views and by critics who questioned whether it was appropriate for him to be placed in such a senior position.
“This begs the question of whether the secretary agrees with the Hamre-Clinton policies, like gays in the military, Draconian defense cuts, women in combat and environmental friendliness,” said a defense official.
“In short, what exactly are his credentials for this job, other than the deluded notion that somehow giving a Clintonite a board seat might make Hillary, should she win, more amenable to the department?”
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino defended the selection. “The president gives deference to his Cabinet to select individuals who they believe will be good public servants,” she said. “I have no reason to believe this choice is any different.”
Mr. Bush criticized Clinton-Gore defense policies during his first presidential campaign when he said Mr. Clinton came into office with “a military ready for dangers and challenges facing our nation.”
“The next president will inherit a military in decline. But if the next president is George W. Bush, the days of decline will be over,” Mr. Bush said Nov. 4, 2000.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Mr. Gates sought the “best individuals with the right background and experiences to advise him.” Board members were picked for “qualifications, not party affiliations,” he said.
“The goal was to continue bipartisan tradition on this board,” Mr. Whitman said, noting the panel includes both “prominent, nationally recognized Republican and Democrat members.”
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