Defense Secretary Gates’ strategy

I’ve been happy with Defense Secretary Robert Gates under both Bush and Obama.  He seems to have drawn a lot of favorable reviews and has presided over a more effective approach to the war in Iraq.  This article from the Washington Post presented a review of his focus on Iraq and Afghanistan, along with some criticisms of him as well.  One criticism that I had not thought of was that he may be so focused on these wars that it could compromise our ability to project power to other places.

Gates’s critics, including some active-duty generals and many of the senior officials he has fired, say his intense focus on Afghanistan and Iraq threatens to turn the vaunted U.S. military into an army of occupiers and nation-builders. “I am sure the North Koreans fear the MRAP [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles] and the Iranians are cringing in their boots about the threat from our stability forces,” former Air Force secretary Michael W. Wynne, who was dismissed last year, wrote in an online column. “Our national interests are being reduced to becoming the armed custodians in two nations, Afghanistan and Iraq.”

I wanted to pass it on as food for thought, and the whole article is worth reading (with some bad language).  I think a lot of one’s reaction will depend on his or her assumptions about American military and foreign policy goals.

Hat tip: Tom Ricks



  1. It reads like a very positive review to me. The interspersed complaints about Gates’s cut-through-the-bureaucracy style don’t really amount to much as long as he is effective.

    While US occupation and nation building is a bad idea, and I’m not fully convinced that the same conditions exist in Afghanistan as Iraq for a corresponding surge, North Korea and Iran should be very concerned if the US military is truly becoming effective at forcefully restructuring nations, given that the US already has unmatched destructive and technical superiority. Heck, I’m very concerned about it.

    It is a fair point that the US may be less able to handle yet another war if necessary, at least from a nation building standpoint, but selective targeting seems more likely in those cases anyway. It’s also interesting that the primary limiting factor Gates faced was not equipment, but rather personnel and training.

  2. Kevin, I thought it was positive as well. You make a good point that the criticism could be off base — the critics could be mistaking the new focus for a complete overhaul of the military. We’ll see how it all plays out, especially once he finishes his year that he promised and Obama has to replace him.

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