Bob Gates for President

I know he’s got an awfully long and crowded bandwagon these days, but the thought occurred to me the other day that one of America’s great strengths is that it can produce men like Secretary of Defense Bob Gates. Here’s a speech he gave at the National Defense University the other day that’s worth reading in its entirety for the lucidity with which he treats the challenges facing American hard power and how to respond to them. But maybe what’s more striking than the lucidity is the reassuring logic and, above all, lack of hysteria:

The defining principle driving our strategy is balance. I note at the outset that balance is not the same as treating all challenges as having equal priority. . .

The balance we are striving for is:
-Between doing everything we can to prevail in the conflicts we are in, and being prepared for other contingencies that might arise elsewhere, or in the future;
-Between institutionalizing capabilities such as counterinsurgency and stability operations, as well as helping partners build capacity, and maintaining our traditional edge — above all, the technological edge — against the military forces of other nation states; and
-Between retaining those cultural traits that have made the United States armed forces successful by inspiring and motivating the people within them, and shedding those cultural elements that are barriers to doing what needs to be done.

Gates has of late come down strongly on the side of the emerging COIN/stability operations consensus in the military’s internal doctrinal debates. That had caused me some concern, not because I’m against that consensus, but because I worry about the risk of COIN-toxication. But in his speech, Gates dials his support back in:

When referring to “Next-War-itis,” I was not expressing opposition to thinking about and preparing for the future. It would be irresponsible not to do so — and the overwhelming majority of people in the Pentagon, the services, and the defense industry do just that. My point was simply that we must not be so preoccupied with preparing for future conventional and strategic conflicts that we neglect to provide both short-term and long-term all the capabilities necessary to fight and win conflicts such as we are in today.

As for the danger that a COIN-centric footing might pose in terms of intervention envy, Gates had this to say:

We are unlikely to repeat another Iraq or Afghanistan anytime soon — that is, forced regime change followed by nation-building under fire. But that doesn’t mean we may not face similar challenges in a variety of locales.

That these kinds of missions are more frequent does not necessarily mean, for risk assessment purposes, that they automatically should have a higher priority for the purposes of military readiness. . .However, the recent past vividly demonstrated the consequences of failing adequately to address the dangers posed by insurgencies and failing states.

I once suggested Gates would make an ideal Secretary of State. I’ve since realized that would reinforce the kind of militarization of American foreign policy that I’ve been arguing against for some time. But here’s hoping he’s the next president National Security Advisor.