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Tension Between Gates And The Obama Team?

Here's a look at some tensions that could arise if Robert Gates stays on as Secretary of Defense, beyond disappointment from the get-out-of-Iraq chorus.

Since at least spring, Gates has been issuing a series of far-reaching policy documents which explicitly try to set the future direction of U.S. defense policy. As Fred Kaplan has written, "The implication [is] clear: The Army's primary mission [traditional wafighting]--which drives its weapons procurement, its force structure, its culture, everything about it--is to be relegated to secondary status and supplanted by a focus on counterinsurgency, training, and advising." That seems to have rubbed some of Obama's transition people in the wrong way. Here's what Michele Flournoy, who's heading Obama's defense transition team, said last June:

Michele Flournoy, president of the Center for a New American Security, said she was surprised to see Gates issuing such a strategy so close to a presidential election, calling it a "strategy destined to be overtaken by events" because one of the new administration's first tasks will be to write such a defense plan. She said the document appropriately emphasizes irregular warfare--focused on terrorists and rogue regimes bent on using insurgency or weapons of mass destruction--but might go too far.

"I think irregular warfare is very important, particularly in contrast to preparing solely for conventional warfighting, but it shouldn't be our only focus," Flournoy said, adding that countries such as China likely are preparing for "high-end" warfare and attacks involving anti-satellite technologies and cyberspace.

If Gates ends up staying on at the Pentagon, he and Petraeus will almost certainly be able to impose these counterinsurgency-oriented priorities on what Flournoy, who has long-standing plans to revamp DoD, hoped would be a top-down review starting from scratch.

--Barron YoungSmith