With talk that President-elect Obama may ask Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to stay on at the Pentagon, Harper’s Magazine’s Scott Horton considers the case for retaining Gates. He writes that as Defense Secretary Gates has attempted to right the uneasy balance between military professionalism and civilian control:

“…anyone who has read deeply in the history of the American Army and Navy from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries knows that the politicization of the officer corps has deep roots. It took a sustained struggle over half a century to avoid it and assure that military appointments and promotions occurred on a professional basis that rewarded competence, intelligence and efficiency—not loyalty and proximity to a coterie of political hacks.

But whereas Rumsfeld and his team marked a huge step backwards, Gates strove to resurrect the Pentagon’s old culture of professionalism. He insisted that his staff take a fresh look at things and provide answers and recommendations that suited the nation’s defense needs—whether they corresponded to the outline provided by Neocon thinktanks or not. He also adopted a new policy of candor and honesty in public speaking and in his remarks to Congress—resisting the temptation to which Rumsfeld regularly succumbed to tailor his remarks to the current themes of Republican politics, resulting in Orwellian rhetoric. Gates’s speeches are a study in contrast—rooted in broadly-shared values that underlie the defense establishment and sometimes openly questioning some of the excesses of his predecessor. Gates’s speeches reflect a strong and honorable view that the exercise of the nation’s war-making power must be kept above the fray of partisan politics, and that those who are deployed in the nation’s defense must understand they are acting on behalf of their country as a whole and not a political party.”

Time’s Mark Thompson also weighs the Gates decision.

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