- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2008


President-elect Barack Obama´s apparent interest in retaining Robert M. Gates as defense secretary and his appointment of two former subordinates of one-time CIA chief George J. Tenet to head the transition team at the Central Intelligence Agency point to continuity - not change - in U.S. national security policy.

The leaders of the transition team, John Brennan and Jami Miscik, implemented and defended the CIA´s corrupt activities under the Bush administration. Mr. Brennan, as chief of staff and deputy executive director under Mr. Tenet, was involved in decisions involving rendition and torture.

Both Mr. Brennan, who rose through the agency´s analytic ranks, and Ms. Miscik, who was Mr. Tenet´s deputy director for intelligence, knew that analytic tradecraft was being ignored and intelligence manipulated in order to support the Bush administration´s decision to go to war in Iraq.

The retention of Mr. Gates at the Pentagon for any length of time would signal Mr. Obama´s support for policies he has questioned publicly..

Mr. Gates has been an enthusiastic supporter of such Bush administration policies as the deployment of a ballistic-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic; the rush to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO; continued spending on a national missile defense (the most expensive weapon in the Pentagon´s inflated budget); and the abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. These policies have weakened the international regime for nonproliferation and the arms-control process with Russia and should be reversed by the Obama administration.

Further, Mr. Gates has failed to tackle the Pentagon´s huge budgetary, personnel and organizational problems. A recent study by the Government Accountability Office revealed nearly $300 billion in cost overruns on the largest defense acquisition programs, a problem that Mr. Gates has not addressed.

He also favors an expanded role for the Pentagon in nation-building, which will lead to huge increases in the already inflated defense budget, as soldiers on the ground become both cops and social workers. The Pentagon has authority to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for “reconstruction, stabilization, or security activities in forces countries. These should be managed by civilian agencies.

There is no reason for Mr. Obama to extend Mr. Gates´ tour. There are numerous well-qualified candidates to replace him. If Mr. Obama genuinely seeks a bipartisan administration, then outgoing Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, an infantry officer in Vietnam and a man with deep knowledge of national security affairs, would be an ideal choice.

Lawrence Korb, who served as an assistant defense secretary during the eight Reagan years, is an expert on defense spending and the weapons acquisition process. Among Democrats, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, another Vietnam veteran, and former Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia would be excellent choices.

Richard Danzig has served several administrations at the Pentagon and, unlike Mr. Gates, shares Mr. Obama´s priorities for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. None of these men requires on-the-job training that would demand retaining Mr. Gates as defense secretary for any length of time. Indeed, managing an appointment this way would be an insult to any qualified candidate for the job.

Finally, if Mr. Obama is serious about genuine change in national security policies and domestic priorities, he will have to address the fundamental problems at the Pentagon, which include the Bush era of profligate spending and the militarization of American diplomacy and the American intelligence community.

Pentagon personnel in recent years have been placed in sensitive positions in public diplomacy and foreign assistance, and active-duty and retired general officers are manning virtually all the key positions of the intelligence community, including the CIA. It is time to enhance the role of the White House in setting U.S. policy and to make sure the National Security Council coordinates the implementation of these policies. Too much power resides in military hands.

The United States must return to the strategic agendas of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who favored significant reductions of nuclear weapons, the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and enhanced effectiveness for the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The United States must end its development of low-yield nuclear weapons, such as “bunker busters” and deployment of a national missile defense in order to return to the high moral ground in the search for disarmament.

These steps never have been part of Mr. Gates´ agenda at the Pentagon, which isolated the United States from the international community. Mr. Obama must establish his own strategic agenda, and he should not begin by appointing or retaining those who served the Bush administration and its failed policies.

• Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA analyst for 25 years, is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and author of “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.”

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