Gates Expected To Stay On At Pentagon

The new Obama administration is taking shape, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to stay on at the Pentagon. Gates would be part of a national security and foreign policy team that's also expected to include Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning. Here are some of the latest moves by a president-elect who is preparing to address two wars and the economy at once. President-elect Barack Obama today introduced a new Economic Advisory Board. He says it will be headed by the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker, who was in charge in the 1980s. Mr. Obama hopes that move will help create jobs and stabilize financial markets.

(Soundbite of news conference)

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: Those who serve in Washington don't always have a ground-level sense of which programs and policies are working for people in businesses and which aren't. This board will provide that fresh perspective to me and my administration.

INSKEEP: That's President-elect Barack Obama speaking at a news conference a short time ago. Now, in the coming days, the president-elect is also expected to name his national security team. And it is likely that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will stay on at the Pentagon. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is covering this story. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And I'd like to know why would Obama want Secretary Gates to stay?

BOWMAN: Well, there are a few reasons, Steve. First of all, the continuity in wartime. We have obviously two wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the last change of power in wartime was probably 40 years ago during the Vietnam War. And it's perhaps unprecedented to have a presidential transition with two wars going on. Now, also Gates is widely seen as a good and steady manager by both Democrats and Republicans. He listens and solicits military advice. Of course, his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld was criticized for his arrogance in dismissal of military advice.

And Gates also holds people accountable. He fired the Army leadership for the Walter Reed scandal over conditions at that Army hospital. He also fired the Air Force leadership over mistakes with its nuclear weapons arsenal. And the other thing is, you know, keeping Gates will give Obama time to get his people in place at the Pentagon. There will be dozens of senior posts who have to be vetted and get through Senate confirmation. It also gives all of them enough time to get up to speed on the wars and policy and budget issues.

INSKEEP: Granting all that reasoning, Tom Bowman, this is a secretary of defense that President Bush was comfortable with - that whatever ideas he was pursuing, President Bush could live with. Can he also be someone that President Obama can live with in the same way?

BOWMAN: Well, you know, it's a good question because, you know, there are some issues. For example, the war in Iraq, Obama has tended to want to move troops out of Iraq at a faster rate than Gates. Gates has said he's against timetables, wants to have conditions on the ground determine when U.S. troops leave. So that could potentially be a bone of contention, although Obama is now saying he would also listen to commanders on the ground and, you know, seems to be moderating a bit on that 16 months.

INSKEEP: Is it possible that events on the ground have forced the two sides in this debate closer together? The war in Iraq is in some sense perhaps winding down, which makes it easier for people who support the war to contemplate withdrawal. And the war in Afghanistan is getting worse, which makes it easier for people to think about sending more troops there.

BOWMAN: Absolutely. You know, they were against timetables in the Bush administration, but now the Iraqis have actually given them a timetable. They want all U.S. troops out by the end of 2011. And everyone agrees - Democrats and Republicans - that more has to be done in Afghanistan. And exactly what that means, it will take some time. There are some reviews going on in the Pentagon about talking with reconcilable Taliban, maybe working with the tribes, maybe arming the tribes over there. So there's broad agreement that troops are leaving Iraq and will be increasing in Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: And is there already speculation about who would follow Secretary Gates as secretary of defense, assuming he doesn't stay that long, Tom Bowman?

BOWMAN: Well, we expect one of Obama's senior advisers, Richard Danzig - he was Navy secretary during the Clinton administration - to be Gates' deputy. And he could step in, you know, six months or a year or more after Gates leaves.

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Bowman covers the Pentagon where the secretary of defense is expected to remain Robert Gates, at least for a time. That is the word from the transition of President-elect Barack Obama.

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