Something has changed in the world view of retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Whether this is just an evolving view based on conditions on the ground or a new freedom to speak his mind remains to be seen. In any event, he hit the Sunday morning talk show circuit this week to comment on foreign policy and raised a few eyebrows. First, we recall what his position on Libya was roughly 90 days ago.
It was reported in March that Gates, along with Counterterrorism Chief John Brennan and National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, privately advised the president to avoid military involvement in Libya — but they were overruled, and Gates subsequently has became one of the stronger advocates of the controversial operation.
And now the position taken this past weekend.
Gates told Wallace that President Obama made the right call in letting NATO take the lead on the operation, what has been referred to as the United States “leading from behind.”
“When this operation stated,” Gates told Wallace, “we were at war in Iraq still, we had 50,000 troops in Iraq, we have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, we have 24,000 people engaged in Japanese earthquake relief – we have a number of commitments around the world.”
“So, the arrangement and the understanding that the president had with our key allies form the very beginning was the U.S. would come in heavy at the beginning, establish the no-fly zone and then had off the operation to our allies – and that we would recede into a support role,” Gates said.
Back in the real world, that particular horse has already left the barn and the debate back home has settled into a good old fashioned fight between the co-equal branches of the government, and it’s not just Republicans vs. Democrats. Ohio Congressman Mike Turner is among those claiming that the president has violated the War Powers Act. Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham wants all of the president’s critics on Libya to sit down and shut up.
John McCain has never been accused of falling on the doves’ side of arguments with the hawks, and stayed true to form this week. He is warning the rest of the GOP against a return to the “strain of isolationism” which used to permeate the party, and “Pat Buchanan style Republicanism.”
I’m not sure what Gates is up to at this point. I’ve yet to hear any serious discussion of his seeking higher office or, in fact, a future in politics of any sort after leaving the administration. He may very well be planning a book tour, or possibly even a role as a media commentator on military matters. (And it would be hard to argue with his bona fides on that score.) But at least for now, he’s backing up his boss on the question of our current activity in Libya.