Obama Puts Faith in Bush's Defence Secretary

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The Guardian/UK

Obama Puts Faith in Bush's Defence Secretary

He may have promised change but Barack Obama has chosen to retain Robert Gates

Haroon Siddique

Robert Gates, US defence secretary, speaks during a promotion ceremony at the Pentagon on Friday. (Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP)

It may have been the economic crisis that delivered the election to Barack Obama
but his consistent opposition to the war in Iraq was also a key plank
in his campaign - first to be the Democratic nominee, and then for

So it might therefore be surprising that he has retained the services of a Bush appointee, Robert Gates, as defence secretary.
What's more, Gates has publicly disagreed with Obama's commitment to a
16-month timetable for withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq.

The Washington Post says
the appointment "would probably disappoint some on the left of the
Democratic party, who would prefer a clear and sharp break with
Bush-era policies".

Politico.com agrees "it could lead to criticism from his party's left wing that the lineup is more hawkish and less revolutionary than his supporters expected".

But it adds:

appointment has substantial advantages for Obama, who now can keep his
pledge of drawing down troops in Iraq with the aid of an architect of
the Bush administration's successful troop 'surge' strategy."

is further evidence of Obama's commitment to bipartisanship. While
Gates may be a Bush appointee, he does not have a Republican background
and is one of the more respected members of the outgoing
administration. He is credited with helping to revive the defence
department after the highly controversial stewardship of Donald
Rumsfeld, and with bringing about the improved situation in Iraq.

US News and World Report recently dubbed him one of America's best leaders, lauding his emphasis "of moving beyond simple brute force" - unusual for a military man.

CNN says
the pros of appointing Gates include ensuring continuity and
demonstrating Obama's self-confidence. It believes it could lead to
policy conflicts: over the speed of the Iraq withdrawal and the space
defence project, for example, and importantly could delay much-promised

Is Obama simply being pragmatic in employing someone
from the Bush administration with a shared affinity for "soft power"?
Or is he rowing back - in the critical area of defence - from his
message of change?

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