Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Mr. Gates Oversteps

by Elliott Abrams
March 31, 2011

In his Congressional testimony today, Secretary of Defense Gates overstepped his authority and undermined the president’s role as Commander in Chief.

According to the New York Times, Gates first said “What the opposition needs as much as anything right now is some training, some command and control and some organization. It’s pretty much a pick-up ballgame at this point.” But, he continued, providing training and weapons is “not a unique capability for the United States, and as far as I’m concerned, somebody else can do that.”

“As far as I am concerned” is an interesting phrase. Was the secretary speaking for himself, for the Pentagon, or for the president? What if the president determines later that the United States should in fact supply arms to the opposition? Why is Gates speaking out now to foreclose the president’s options? On March 3 he called discussions of a no-fly zone “loose talk,” but it seems that experience has made him more rather than less aggressive in ruling options in and out.

Far worse was Gates’s answer when asked if there would be American “boots on the ground.” According to the Times Mr. Gates replied “Not as long as I’m in this job.”

Who elected Bob Gates? That is a decision the president, or the president and Congress, should make. The secretary of defense has the obligation to give the president his unvarnished views—privately. It is wrong, and subversive of the president’s constitutional role, for the secretary of defense to threaten that he would resign if the president makes that decision. How else can one read Gates’s remark except as saying “I oppose this, and I won’t do it, and if the president orders me to do it I will quit.”

Mr. Gates is a short-timer and apparently now feels free to escape White House discipline and substitute himself for the president. If that is his view he should resign his post now. The right answer–indeed the only acceptable answer–to the question about “boots on the ground” was “The president will make that decision.”

Post a Comment 9 Comments

  • Posted by Steve

    Gates is doing his job and giving his honest opinion! I see nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

  • Posted by JohnD

    Mr Gates has every right to say what he said. He is the senior military advisor to the president but he has a responsibility to be straight with Congress. Do you really think Obama is qualified to make that decision on his own? Doesn’t Congress have the right to know what he thinks?
    If Gates is opposed than Obama would be a fool to go against his advice. And if Obama does decide to go against Gates advice he should resign in protest.

    You sound like an Obama Kool-Aid drinker.

  • Posted by Maine's Michael

    Everyone walks all over Obama. Not just our enemies.

  • Posted by Doug Santo

    I thought Gates’ responses were unusual. They immediately sounded wrong; though, on further reflection I thought it was good to have someone giving this type of input. After reading this short piece, I find I agree with you. Gates was out of line. He should appologize to the President in private, or resign.

    Doug Santo
    Pasadena, CA

  • Posted by Andrew Wulf

    Completely agree.

  • Posted by Steve Knopp

    Mr. Abrams makes an excellent point. I’ve always had the highest respect for Robert Gates. His remarks however did nothing to reinforce that esteem. Is he getting to big for the job? One wonders.

  • Posted by thebardofmurdock

    Obama’s Strategery

    For those who study history
    And military strategy,
    A new approach to waging war
    In ways that were untried before,
    Is rarely seen or heard:
    The old ways are preferred.

    But in these times of global strife,
    With sounds of drum and notes of fife,
    A new man joins the hall of fame
    Of leaders who receive acclaim,
    For strategy in war,
    Too brilliant to ignore.

    With Hannibal, Napoleon,
    And Kahn, the great Mongolian,
    With Brennus and with Pericles
    With Sun Tzu and Eurybiades,
    Our President does share
    A real strategic flair.

    He joins in war, almost too late,
    Makes public his withdrawal date,
    Commences action from the air,
    Then makes his enemies aware
    He’ll not attack on land,
    Across the desert sand.

    Within just days, perhaps a week,
    His reputation and mystique
    For managing the world’s affairs
    Achieves its peak when he declares
    He’ll bomb the rebels too,
    For things that they might do.

    Perhaps another Nobel Prize
    Our friends from Stockholm could reprise,
    For excellence in strategy
    While waging war on Tripoli.
    It’s merited, at worst,
    As much as was the first.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    I saw that exchange and was struck not only by Gates’s frankness but by the vapid and inane ( stupid ? ) questions posed by the members of the committee , most of which could have been answered by a teenager who had read that morning’s newspaper .

    It seems apparent that Gates , at this point , doesn’t care whether he goes or stays which is not a helpful attitude .

  • Posted by ipad 3

    Thanks because of this! I’ve been searching all above the web for that facts.

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