Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

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Thursday, May 13, 2004
 
So, if Rummy were to go, who'd be the right replacement?

Let's just take all the Bush "character issues" off the table for a moment, and ask ourselves: what does the U.S. need in a SecDef right now?

- Someone with a strong personality, capable of winning the respect of the brass, not someone who simply rolls over for them.

- Someone with a clear and compelling vision for how the American military should be structured, who has absorbed what was right about Rumsfeld's vision (the importance of speed and a light footprint) and what was drastically wrong (ignoring the political dimension of military conflict, disdain for peacekeeping and police work).

- Someone with credibility in the Senate, so he'll be confirmed.

- Someone untainted by the mistakes and failures of the Iraq war.

That's not a terribly extensive list of requirements, is it? So who does it rule out?

Well, it rules out Powell, who we can rule out anyhow because he has no interest in continuing to serve this President. Powell would absolutely roll over for whatever the Army wants. To a lesser extent it rules out Armitage, whom I still respect a lot more than Powell.

The third and fourth requirements rule out Wolfowitz, certainly, and also Cheney, not that either was especially likely.

Tom Ridge was never a very appealing candidate, and his performance at DHS inspires no particular confidence.

People talk about Senator McCain. Leave aside the fact that he'd never be offered the job. What do we really know about his views on the current war? I was very pleased with his performance during the Kossovo war; contrary to what most paleos think, there was a very good reason we embarked on that adventure (President George H.W. Bush had explicitly threatened military action in Kossovo if the Serbs tried to cleanse the province), and McCain was absolutely right in saying that ruling out ground troops from the get-go was a mistake. But do you know what he thinks we should be doing in Iraq? What we should be doing generally in the war on terror? Do you know what he thinks our military's force structure should be? I sure don't. His website lists almost nothing of relevance since the start of the Iraq war. Most of his defense-related activities amount to constituent service: getting better benefits for servicemen and vets, that sort of thing. Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't exactly give you a picture of what he thinks we should be doing with our military. We know he thinks we should have more troops in Iraq, but not much more - nor do we know what he thinks the implications are for the overall size and shape of America's armed forces. The one thing you can definitely say: McCain would not roll over for the services from a procurement perspective. That's important. But is it the most important thing, right now? From a political perspective, McCain would be a great choice. From a policy perspective, maybe, but I just don't know. Anyhow, it doesn't matter because he won't get the job.

Who's that leave?

Well, Bush should probably pick a Senator or former Senator, to smooth confirmation. He should pick someone with independent ideas, who is neither going to be focused on covering his own rear, or sucking up to the President, or rolling over for the services. He should pick someone who is an internationalist and favors a forthright defense of American interests, but who has absorbed the lessons of the Iraq war, whether that person favored the war initially or not. Ideally, he should also pick someone who actually cares about terrorism and has some ideas on that front.

I can think of three plausible candidates, each with different strengths and weaknesses: Senator Dick Lugar, former Senator Dan Coats, and former Senator (and Democrat) Bob Kerrey.

Dick Lugar has a number of sterling qualifications for the job. He's got decades of experience in foreign affairs. He has focused on the threat of WMD terrorism in the past, and has been a leader in trying to control nuclear proliferation. He has been pointed (but polite) in his criticisms of the conduct of the war in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He has enormous credibility abroad and he would sail through confirmation. A Lugar choice would unquestionably represent a change in policy, but not a retreat from the war effort. There is no question Lugar would keep us in Iraq until the situation is stabilized; he's not going to cut and run. But he has no prior commitments either to a course of action or to individuals that would complicate making strategy with a view to American interests. Lugar would represent not a turn towards the isolationist, Buchanan wing, but to a more traditional American internationalist realism - to Hamiltonian foreign policy rather than Wilsonian or Jacksonian. There's a good argument to be made for just such a turn. Of course, Bush will never pick Lugar; the guy has no swagger, isn't part of the team, probably reminds him of his father. Shame, really.

Dan Coats would be a bit more of a continuity choice in that (a) he was Bush's original choice for Secretary of Defense, and (b) he is strongly identified with the same "transformation" plans that Rumsfeld has pushed at Defense. These plans are essential to the long-term future of the American armed forces, and it would be a good thing if the next Secretary made them a priority, as Rumsfeld has. Coats has been supportive of the Iraq war, but he's not someone who was involved with the planning, so his hands are basically clean. There's no way he'd advocate cutting and running, but he'd have the freedom to change course if necessary. Coats reputedly was nixed for the SecDef job in part because of his commitment to ending the Clinton-era "social experiments" in the military - i.e., efforts to expand the role of women and (to a far lesser extent) gays in the services. I always thought the gay issue was basically silly (there have always been gays in the military, so there's no need to go on a witch hunt, but the need for someone in uniform to be aggressively "out" is obscure to me as well), but in the wake of Abu Ghraib my own and others' concerns about the increasing presence of women in combat or near-combat roles should be heightened. If Coats' position on these matters were a stumbling block last time around, it should be an asset next time. Coats has been Ambassador to Germany for the past few years. It'd be interesting to know what he learned from that experience, and whether it would help him be more diplomatic than Rummy has been. It's not inconceivable that Bush would pick Coats. But there were reputedly some "chemistry" issues along with the women thing. And those "chemistry" issues reputedly revolved around Coats wanting assurance that he'd have the President's backing when he made tough decisions. Bush thought it showed insecurity for Coats to ask for that assurance. Maybe. Or maybe Bush thought Coats was being uppity, not loyal enough, suggesting that Bush might *not* back him up. There's that character thing again . . .

Bob Kerrey, though a Democrat, would also be a continuity choice from an Iraq perspective. He was very strongly supportive of the Iraq war, as a sponsor of the original Iraq Liberation Act and as one of Ahmad Chalabi's circle of Washington supporters. That doesn't necessarily disqualify him in my view; I didn't start to pay really close attention to Chalabi until 2002, before that simply assuming that, since he said the right things, he probably was a good guy. I don't blame folks too much for supporting him in 1998. In any event, Kerrey has an interest in terrorism that stretches back well before his performance on the 9-11 commission. Picking him would go an enormous way towards convincing the country that Bush is more focused on winning the war against al Qaeda than on winning political points. And Kerrey knows something about counter-insurgency as well - from personal experience. It might be useful to have a former Navy SEAL take a look at the structure of the U.S. military; Rumsfeld's an old fighter jock, which isn't the best vantage point to consider handling teenagers with RPGs. Would Kerrey take the job? Certainly not before the election. But after? Who knows? Frankly, I think his reputation for bi-partisanship is richly deserved. He did a great job skewering the Clinton foreign policy team, both back when they were in office and during the 9-11 Commission hearings. He'll never have a job in a Kerry Administration; McCain's a more likely choice than Kerrey is. Why not? Well, the main reason why not is that Bush won't put anyone on the team who isn't beholden to him, so they'll stay fanatically loyal. But I said we were going to put the Bush "character issues" aside, didn't I?