Secretary Gates and General Jones in the Obama Administration

Despite intense pressure from anti-war activists and Bush administration opponents, Mr. Obama selected a National Security team headlined by pragmatists who recognize the importance of success in Iraq and Afghanistan. His choices of Secretary Gates and General Jones in particular appear to represent the President-elect’s refusal to commit himself to the obstinate opinions of some of his supporters. As the nation’s next wartime Commander-in-Chief, Mr. Obama understands that the eventual outcome of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan will be as much his responsibility as President Bush’s. Hopefully these Cabinet nominations communicate his desire to make decisions informed by conditions on the ground and foreign policy objectives, not by political rhetoric.

Secretary Gates assumed his position as head of the Defense Department at a time when many would have fled from such a post. His steady hand, professionalism, and keen managerial skills steered the Department through uncertain times and seemingly ubiquitous obstacles. He supported his commanders in the field and ensured they had what they needed to succeed. He understood what was at stake in Iraq and didn’t give in to the critics who proclaimed the war to be lost. Instead, he played an integral role in shaping the strategy that turned the war around and inspired Americans to believe that victory was possible.

Mr. Obama’s decision to keep Secretary Gates reveals a side of the President-elect that many of us did not see during the interminable campaign. It shows that he is well aware of the complexity of the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recognizes the need for sound judgment, proven experience, and dependability in facing the challenge of moving forward. His stated commitment to listening to and respecting the commanders in the field is the most promising indication of Mr. Obama’s plans regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, and one that Secretary Gates clearly echoes.

For many of America’s veterans, Mr. Obama’s nomination of General James Jones as his National Security Advisor sends a strong message that those in uniform will have a legitimate voice within the coming administration. Gen Jones’ service as Commandant of the Marine Corps clearly demonstrates his standing with our nation’s finest, and his experience as commander of NATO forces makes him ideal for our current joint environments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While many of Mr. Obama’s supporters decry these selections as “more of the same”, there are many of us who genuinely respect his apparent willingness to regard the facts on the ground as the single most important factor in considering the way ahead. As America’s largest Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’ organization, Vets For Freedom supports Mr. Obama’s selection of Secretary Gates and General Jones. Unlike those who dogmatically cry for an immediate troop withdrawal regardless of consequences, we support Mr. Obama’s signaling that he will commit to the commanders in the field and to understanding the complex conditions on the ground before determining the way forward.

That said, if these nominations do not translate into responsible policy oriented towards victory on all fronts of the Global War on Terrorism, Vets for Freedom will constructively fight to hold the Obama administration to account. During the campaign, Mr. Obama consistently called for hasty withdrawal in Iraq, and if these nominees are made to execute that plan, we will do whatever we can to oppose a policy that could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.