All the talk a few months back about President Obama and defense secretary Robert Gates doing a mind-meld that would result in Gates staying on for four years is gone. The prevailing view now is that Gates will leave relatively soon. A reporter who travels with Gates says he is signaling he will leave “after the next budget cycle,” meaning the 2011 budget submission. A senior military officer says the Pentagon rumor mill has him leaving in 18-24 months. An industry executive with extensive political contacts says Gates will go next summer.
Chances are Gates has not decided when to leave, and having operated around the likes of Henry Kissinger he understands the political danger of looking like a lame duck. But some observers say Gates isn’t all that close to Obama, and that the main reason he is valued by the White House is for keeping defense off the front page — enabling the administration to concentrate on it domestic initiatives.
Obviously, this raises questions about how durable the priorities set forth in the Quadrennial Defense Review will be, or whether Gates will have any real impact on how the Pentagon does business. But past experience suggests that the services shouldn’t try to just wait him out. The Air Force thought it could wait out Rumsfeld on the F-22 by signing up to a faux production cap in the last QDR, and then got saddled with a successor (Gates) who insisted that it stick with its commitment.
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