The names floated for Barack Obama's national security team "are drawn exclusively from conservative, centrist and pro-military circles without even a single -- yes, not one! -- chosen to represent the antiwar wing of the Democratic party." In his plaintive post this week on the Nation magazine's Web site, Robert Dreyfuss indulges in the political left's wonderful talent for overstatement. But who are we to interfere with his despair?
If reports are correct, on Monday the President-elect will ask Robert Gates to stay on as Secretary of Defense and name retired Marine General James Jones as National Security Adviser. These are the Administration posts most critical to the successful conduct of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to possible entanglements with Iran, North Korea and who knows who else. With these personnel picks, Mr. Obama reveals a bias for competence, experience and continuity. Hence the caterwauls from his left flank.
The Gates selection is an implicit endorsement of President Bush's "surge" in Iraq and its military architect, General David Petraeus. More broadly, it recognizes that America will continue to deal with a daunting post-9/11 security environment. As a member of the Iraq Study Group, Mr. Gates was against the surge before Mr. Bush made support for it a condition of his taking the Pentagon job. But at Defense since late 2006, Mr. Gates has supervised the successful new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq. He also championed a new generation of military leaders, chiefly General Petraeus, who now commands U.S. forces in the Mideast, and he has poured additional resources into Afghanistan.
On all of the above, continuity would be welcome. Recall that Candidate Obama opposed the surge, called for a speedy withdrawal from Iraq and brushed back General Petraeus's pleas to rethink both during his summer visit to Baghdad. Presumably President-elect Obama gave Mr. Gates some reassurances about future policy and his ability to shape it without repudiating the Secretary's record to date. Mr. Gates will also give Mr. Obama some political insulation if events go wrong; Republicans may be less willing to criticize a Defense Secretary who served GOP Presidents than they would some standard-issue liberal like Michigan Senator Carl Levin.
General Jones is also a reassuring get. In the campaign, the former Marine Commandant and NATO Commander never endorsed anyone, though possible Obama Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and John McCain both avidly courted him. The General comes from a fine tradition that puts national security above partisanship.
Here's how he explained his then-controversial support for the surge to a Journal reporter in April: "Understand the fact that regardless how you got there, there is a strategic price of enormous consequence for failure in Iraq." In his postmilitary life, he worked on energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. On paper, General Jones sure beats Bill Clinton's NSC advisers (Anthony Lake and Sandy Berger) and perhaps President Bush's...
Obama's War Cabinet - WSJ.com