Signs abound that Barack Obama will keep Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense for a significant period of time in his administration.  Negotiations have reportedly reached the point where they’ve begun reviewing org charts for potential replacements and retentions.  Meanwhile, anticipating the shrieks from the Left when Change doesn’t include the DoD, Harry Reid began telling people that Gates isn’t a Republican:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was supportive of the idea when asked about it Sunday by substitute anchor John King on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

“I think we need a good transition there,” Reid said. “You know, it’s interesting: My conversation with Secretary Gates, he’s not even a Republican. Why wouldn’t we want to keep him? He’s never been a registered Republican.”

Perhaps not, but that won’t fly with most partisans.  Gates may not be a registered Republican, but he’s served two Republican presidents as political appointees.  He also served Bush 41, first as a deputy national-security adviser and then as CIA director from 1991-3.  His actual voter registration will be secondary to those who wanted the entire Bush hierarchy excised, especially on defense and national security.

Fortunately, that’s a small minority in Obama’s coalition.  Keeping Gates is a wise choice, and sends some important signals to the DoD and to our military allies.  Rather than expecting wholesale Change, they can expect continuity in important areas, especially strategically in the current war theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Politico notes that keeping Gates may help keep David Petraeus happy and on the job — critical to Obama in the first few months of his administration as he gets up to speed on military matters.

The conventional wisdom holds that Gates can provide cover for Obama’s intended troop withdrawals from Iraq, but the new status of forces agreement already does that, assuming the Iraqi National Assembly passes it before the end of the year.  The choice of Gates and the courtship of Petraeus suggests something different entirely — that Obama has already begun rethinking the timetable for withdrawal in the new reality of Iraq.  I’d be only mildly (and pleasantly) surprised if Obama adheres to the 32-month timetable in the SOFA and attempts to negotiate a longer-term presence along those same principles in 2010 or 2011, after the Congressional elections.  By that time, Iraq might decide that having American air power nearby would be a good idea.

Let’s hope all of this courtship results in a marriage, soon.