Part of a National Review Symposium.
Bob Gates is far better than any of the other candidates President-Elect Obama might have been expected to select for his secretary of Defense. He has time on the job - which means he is experienced in a way no senator or governor could be. He's a seasoned professional who knows Washington and its Byzantine bureaucracies. He's a grownup. He understands how hard American troops fought, and how high a price they paid, to turn the situation around in Iraq. He knows what's at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
If Obama retains Gates, he almost certainly retains Generals Petraeus and Odierno as well - and that, also is all to the good. They are our most creative and competent military commanders, warriors in the best sense.
For extending Gates's tenure, Obama will face carping and criticism - not just from Lefties who will complain that this isn't the "change" they were promised, but also from the "realist" right, those who wanted to see the job go to an outspoken critic of the Iraq mission, such as Chuck Hagel, Lawrence Korb, or Wesley Clark.
By retaining Gates, Obama sends the message that he intends to focus on the economy, that he will be spending most of his time attempting to fix what is broken, rather than tinkering with what's working reasonably well. Some might see that as a conservative impulse - or maybe just good management. Come to think of it, that does represent a kind of change.