An administration adrift
Stephen Hayes has a write-up of a meeting between himself, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, the Brookings Institution's Robert Kagan, the Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The account does not fill one with confidence.
Most disturbing is the nonchalant attitude toward Libya:
...think, it's all happened so fast," Gates said Tuesday. "And you know, I mean, the strafing of people and everything is, what, 48 hours old?" . . .
Gates says what happens to Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi and his country is unknowable at this point. "Whether he's able to reestablish control through extraordinarily bloody repression, whether the army boots him out - although the army isn't as unified in Libya as it is in some of these other countries that we're dealing with - whether he goes and it kind of goes back to before '63 in terms of kind of the three parts of the country - the south drawn toward Sub-Saharan Africa, Cyrenaica toward Egypt, and the other part toward the West - have some sort of a consensus among tribal elders or something like that - I think it's really an open question at this point."
Gates says there are signs the Libyan military is "fragmenting," with unconfirmed reports that some commanders have refused orders to fire on protestors and that others have joined the demonstrations. Although the United States has limited capabilities in the region which would make it difficult to set up a no-fly zone quickly, others might be in a better position to help. "The French - I don't know what the British have in the area - but the French and the Italians potentially, I suppose, could have some assets they could put in there quicker."
In response to a question about whether the administration should be showing a greater sense of urgency in stopping the bloodshed, Gates said he's involved in Libya-related meetings "two or three times a day" and reiterated that "it's a very fast moving situation."
It's unknowable. I don't know. We're having lots of meetings. This is best we can do?
In fairness to Gates, he's only the secretary of defense, but what he reveals is that no one in the White House or in the State Department is taking charge of the situation to develop a strategy. What is absent is any sense of urgency about the unfolding tragedy, let alone any clear policy objectives. Perhaps they've been too busy screeching at Israel about its settlements.
Equally revealing is Gates's obvious discomfort with the July 2011 troop deadline in Afghanistan ("the piece of the strategy that frankly I had the hardest time with during the debate"). He seems to have talked himself into going along with an approach that plainly did not stem from military necessity. ("Although military and civilian officials tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the July 2011 deadline has made it harder to get Afghans to cooperate with the U.S. and our allies, Gates believes there may be a payoff when the deadline passes.")
Lastly, Gates seems to have been sending a signal to the congressional budget hawks to temper their enthusiasm for whacking the Pentagon's budget:
[H]e is concerned that the budget hawks, in a triumph of math over strategy, are too eager to cut the Pentagon budget in their efforts to pare down the deficit. "Defense is not like other discretionary spending. This is something we've got to do and that we have a responsibility to do. And so the two shouldn't be equated. They have not been equated in the past. I mean, that's why they call it non-defense discretionary spending and so on."
He adds: "I got it that we've got a $1.6 trillion deficit. But defense is not a significant part of that problem. If you took a 10 percent cut in defense, which would be catastrophic in terms of capabilities, that would be $50 billion on a $1.6 trillion deficit."
And national security, he says, "is the on function that unambiguously belongs to the federal government."
Unfortunately, the multiple rounds of Pentagon cuts that Gates coughed up and vouched for set the tone of the debate, no doubt exactly as the president hoped.
The portrait of Gates is a man struggling to push an administration to act responsibly. To the chagrin of those who advocate a robust American presence in the world, he seems to have been only partially successful. In the end, there is no substitute for a thoughtful, forceful commander in chief who understands the need to project American power and values. And that we don't have.
| February 23, 2011; 11:12 AM ET
Categories: foreign policy
Save & Share: Previous: Public employee unions: Entitled to their own views, but not their own facts
Next: More on Daniels's folly
Posted by: Inagua1 | February 23, 2011 11:31 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Beniyyar | February 23, 2011 11:57 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: engdre | February 23, 2011 11:59 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: eoniii | February 23, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: RitchieEmmons | February 23, 2011 1:40 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: aardunza | February 23, 2011 3:15 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: eoniii | February 23, 2011 5:13 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: K2K2 | February 23, 2011 6:37 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Stu707 | February 23, 2011 6:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: eoniii | February 23, 2011 7:06 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: K2K2 | February 24, 2011 2:54 PM | Report abuse