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Bush End Game
George W. Bush's presidency since 2007

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George W. Bush's presidency from 2005-06

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George W. Bush's presidency, 2000-04

Who Is Bob Gates?
The secret world of Defense Secretary Gates

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Washington Old Guard Wins on Gates

By Brent Budowsky
November 26, 2008

Editor’s Note: During the campaign, Barack Obama vowed to not just end the Iraq War but to end "the mindset" that led to war.

Now, however, many of Obama's choices for top national security jobs appear to represent the old mindset, as former Democratic congressional aide Brent Budowsky notes in this guest essay:

With Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, the incoming Obama administration is shaping up to be a reunion of strong supporters of the Iraq War.

Despite Barack Obama’s emphasis during the campaign on the importance of showing sound judgment about going to war, judgment here is not a factor. Both Defense Secretary Gates and Sen. Clinton were wrong on Iraq early and long.

As the President-elect moves to fill these and other top national security jobs, other qualities don’t appear important either, like loyalty, clarity and principle. I must dissent.

Let’s revisit the Reagan years. At the time, I was working for the House Democratic leadership and when President Ronald Reagan was meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, I and some other Democrats were working with some on the Reagan side regarding historic negotiations between Washington and Moscow.

Bob Gates, who was deputy CIA director, was against this. He resisted the idea that Gorbachev was different from his Soviet predecessors, while Reagan correctly saw the monumental opportunity that Gorbachev’s emergence represented and was determined to make the most of it, whatever we think of other Reagan policies.

At that defining moment in history, Bob Gates was horrendously wrong. His judgment, knowledge and advice were terrible, even though he was considered a Soviet expert inside the CIA. …

More recently, the many mistakes and misjudgments surrounding the Iraq War represent a total failure of the national security establishment of both parties in Washington. Yet, leaders of that insider community can read today’s newspapers and rejoice that being wrong on Iraq surely is no disqualifier for landing a job in the new Obama administration. It may even be a help.

The one bright spot is retired Marine Gen. James Jones, who appears to be in line to be national security adviser at the White House. An early critic of the war, Jones is first-rate and should be an outstanding choice.

The rest of the team, however, appears to continue the status quo of an establishment that was wrong about Iraq and mostly wrong about Iran. The President-elect is surrounding himself with people who supported the Iraq War and opposed high-level diplomacy with Iran. This is a group that went along with the tragic and mistaken consensus that has done so much damage during the Bush years.

I fear, too, that these reported personnel choices presage a longer American military commitment in Iraq than Obama laid out during the campaign. What is needed is a careful, phased withdrawal from Iraq, but I fear that this Obama national security team will favor as long a stay as possible and as sizable a troop commitment as possible.

I hope I’m wrong.

It is unfortunate that national security leaders of great experience and judgment with far stronger records of being right, such as Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, and former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Georgia, were passed over for Bob Gates.

It is unfortunate that the Democratic Party appears too weak to appoint one of its own as Secretary of Defense, someone like Sam Nunn who was right about Iraq from the start and would have been one of the most qualified individuals to have ever served as Secretary of Defense.

And if not Nunn, the President-elect could have named Chuck Hagel, a profile in courage – and sound judgment – as a Republican who dared dissent against the war policies of his own party.

It is unfortunate that on an issue so momentous as who runs the Pentagon at a time of war, the views that were stated in the campaign – and supported so deeply by the base of the Democratic Party and the new voters who were the heart of the Obama campaign – are sacrificed so quickly, for Bob Gates.

Though there still may be hope for a change of heart before Obama makes the appointments official, it appears the die is cast and the deal is done. Of course, I hope whatever national security team emerges will do well, but I think these choices are wrong, and I must dissent.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and to Rep. Bill Alexander, then the chief deputy whip of the House. He can be read in The Hill newspaper, where he is a columnist. He can be reached at

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