With Pentagon insiders taking bets on when defense secretary Robert Gates will depart public service (see my posting of August 7), some observers have started to handicap the field of potential successors. It isn’t a very big group. Some of the best candidates, like Bill Perry and Paul Kaminski, are too old to be interested. Some of the brightest younger candidates, like Michele Flournoy and Ashton Carter, may not give the administration sufficient political cover to make tough choices. And some people with seemingly perfect resumes, like Richard Danzig, appear to have rubbed White House political operatives the wrong way. Where to turn?
The name that seems to come up the most is former deputy defense secretary John Hamre, who now runs the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Although he is too young to be called a “senior statesman,” he has the combination of experience, gravitas and good manners to attract widespread support. If he has any enemies in Washington they have managed to remain well hidden, with hardliners remembering him as one of the few policymakers in the Clinton Pentagon who pushed to increase weapons spending when the political system just wanted to let everything drift. Along with Rudy DeLeon (now at the Center for American Progress), Hamre was the eyes and ears of the Clinton White House in the Pentagon — a seasoned loyalist who kept the administration out of trouble while making sure its defense agenda was not hijacked by special interests.
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