Obama Won't Rule Out Keeping Bob Gates at the Pentagon

Roll Call ($) reports that when Barack Obama recently met with House Democrats to coordinate their message for the remainder of the campaign, he was asked by several Members to keep Defense Secretary Bob Gates through the transition, assuming he’s elected:

Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, raised the issue last week at the House Democratic Caucus meeting with Obama. Schiff asked the Illinois Senator and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee if he would consider having Pentagon boss Robert Gates stay for at least the first few months of his new administration…

Participants at the meeting said Obama did not directly respond to Schiff’s question, nor did his campaign return a call from Roll Call seeking comment. Schiff declined to comment, saying Democrats are not supposed to talk about closed Caucus meetings.

While the idea might seem far-fetched for a candidate who opposed the Iraq War from the start, several conservative Democrats well-versed in military issues believe the idea has merit. They said Obama should eventually bring on his own Defense secretary, but suggested Gates might offer stability during the first months of what would likely be a hectic transition.

“A lot of people have been talking about it privately,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), a Blue Dog Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee. Cooper said he would support the move for three or four months to make sure there was continuity for fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…

“He’s light years better than Rumsfeld,” said Rep. Gene Taylor (Miss.), a Blue Dog Democrat and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. “If either of these guys became president and asked Mr. Gates to stick around, I would not object to it.”

Admittedly, Obama has by now been all over the place on Iraq and the surge. But surely he ought to be clear about bringing new leadership to the Pentagon, shouldn’t he? After all, if the war in Iraq is genuinely a top priority for Obama, and he intends to change direction, how can he keep Gates in place for ‘a few months’ after he’s sworn in? There are 11 weeks between election day and the inauguration; that ought to be enough time to line up a replacement for the most important job in the Cabinet.

If Obama is actually considering keeping Gates on, how can he continue to slam the President’s conduct of the War on Terror?