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Who Stays With Gates?

Defense Secretary Bob Gates, as Matt DeLong said, is in the Obama administration for another year. Charlie from the prominent counterinsurgency blog Abu Muqawama proclaims “victory in our time.”

The question I have, as you can see from my piece today, is who stays at the Pentagon with Gates. His undersecretary for policy — an important job with tremendous influence over all manner of defense-posture issues — is the former Dick Cheney adviser Eric Edelman. He, I think it’s fair to say, isn’t change we can believe in.

But I wonder whether Edelman will want to stay. Gates won’t be Obama’s emissary to the Bush administration’s residual supporters. He’ll be Obama’s defense secretary — arguing for policy from the GOP-realist right, yes, but still having to implement Obama’s larger goals, like withdrawing from Iraq according to the timetable laid out by the SOFA. Given that one of the big SOFA implementation issues is how to manage the restrictions envisioned on the U.S. military — U.S. forces have to be out from Iraqi towns and cities by mid-2009, practically guaranteeing operations that counterinsurgents derisively call “commuting to the fight” from big bases — it makes sense to have a respected honest broker and bona fide wise man at the Pentagon to manage this new reality.

But that doesn’t leave room for a Cheneyite. Edelman isn’t as hardcore as, say, your John Hannahs or your Scooter Libbys or your Toria Nulands, but his foreign-policy instincts are still a lot closer to Cheney’s than they are to Obama’s. And the practicalities of Gates’ re-upping mean that there’s not much opportunity for Edelman to throw a monkey wrench into the works if he wants to keep his job — after all, Gates is staying because he’s on the right-most edge of the consensus Obama apparently wants to build. Edelman likely won’t have the opportunity to roll stuff back while remaining in his boss’s good graces.

And if that’s the case, why stay? Why not go off to the private sector and make some money? These are tough economic times, but it’ll always be time for a prominent defense official to find a sinecure at a defense contractor. Live it up, Eric!

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