- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2008



There is no better appointment in his incoming administration than for President-elect Barack Obama to keep the incumbent Robert M. Gates in his post as defense secretary.

I would go even further: No public official is as trusted and indeed as trustworthy as is Mr. Gates. And when it comes to experience he has it in spades.

Yes, he’s sort of an academic - a Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University and, yes, he is a Republican and, yes, a former head of the Central Intelligence Agency. Before entering his present post, he was president of Texas A&M;, the nation’s seventh-largest university. Quite a record.

And just as he was looking forward to settling into his retirement home in the Pacific Northwest just below the Canadian border, there came the call from President George W. Bush and I hope what will be another trumpet call from President-elect Barack Obama.

Mr. Gates has served as defense secretary under Mr. Bush since 2006 when he replaced that political stormy petrel, Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Gates is much admired by Obama advisers, one of whom, Richard Danzig, was recently quoted by the Financial Times as saying that while Mr. Gates had been a good defense secretary, he would be “an even better one in an Obama administration.” Right on.

Mr. Gates joined the CIA in 1966 and spent nearly 27 years as an intelligence professional, serving six presidents of both parties. One of his most useful accomplishments was publishing a highly readable memoir in 1996 called “From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War.” (It’s in paperback.) Mr. Gates is the only career officer in CIA’s history to rise from entry-level employee to director.

It was in this period that The Washington Post said, “Gates has become to the world of Sovietology what Eeyore is to Pooh Corner: someone capable of finding a dark lining in even the brightest cloud.”

The dark lining in this case was Mr. Gates’ critique of the agency: the “CIA is turning into the department of agriculture, … it is full of people waiting for retirement… it has a case of advanced bureaucratic arteriosclerosis.”

If Mr. Obama wants a defense secretary for what will surely be a memorable administration, Bob Gates is the man for him. In the words of Chaucer, Mr. Gates is the “very parfit gentle knight.”

Arnold Beichman is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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