Robert Gates is Bush's Secretary of Defense and has been for two years. President-elect Barack Obama has announced that he will retain Gates in an open-ended offer to remain in charge of the Pentagon. Obama was elected on a platform of change.
Something is wrong with this picture—it's fuzzy, the central characters are unfocused and it's out of square.
Punditry assured us that Gates would merely provide a transition, a smooth path out of the disastrous Bush-era DoD policies that have driven the economic collapse from the government side, killed more than 4,100 Americans, wounded another 30,000, and angered much of the world, beginning with U.S. citizens.
That speculation was not reassuring to the millions who have been opposed to the criminal stupidity of invading and occupying Iraq. We want real change. We want it beginning on January 20, 2009, not after a year or two.
As long as the U.S. occupies Iraq, the killing will continue. Iraqi civilians have paid the highest price for Bush's decisions—more than 100,000 have died on the 'battlefield' from attacks and more than a million have died from the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure, according to peer-reviewed medical studies.
Historians have long noted that Americans have the capacity to 'turn on a dime' and wage war. We have shown how to massively retool our industrial base, conscript millions, recruit more millions of volunteers, train them all and mobilize them to defeat bona fide threats to our security.
It's time to show that we can turn on that dime to wage peace. Indeed, that is one of the two primary reasons we first chose Obama over Hillary Clinton and then over John McCain—we have bipartisan consensus on this particular major policy. It is, along with the creation of jobs, at the heart of the change we now legitimately expect, having earned it by a long and tough campaign to get the most electable peace candidate headed for the White House.
But when Robert Gates accepted Obama's unconditional offer, he especially noted to the national press that he was not interested in remaining just to help transition to different policies. When reporters followed up and asked about the stark differences between his publicly stated opposition to timelines for exiting Iraq and Obama's clear promise to get the U.S. out in 16 months, maximum, Gates pointedly noted that Obama is pledged to listen to his appointees in his new cabinet.
Excuse us? Obama's pledge is toward peace. There are numerous candidates for the cabinet who would honor that pledge made to the American people. Gates obviously would not. Why is he the only cabinet member so far asked to stay when he represents the worst part of Bush's policies? Why is Gates allowed to come in saying that he will not support Obama's crystal clear promise on this major issue?
This is not acceptable to Americans, nor to the rest of the world. Mr. Obama, at least take office before you begin breaking campaign promises—and our hearts. Gates should be given the normal pink slip richly deserved by any caretaker of policy so bad it kills and drags the country down. We hope for fast change in Iraq—and you are setting us up for massive disappointment. We worked for you and voted you in to effect real substantive change and save lives. Robert Gates is not the way to the change we need and expect. Revisit bad decisions and correct any now. It's hard to turn on a dime if you decide to begin on a slippery slope. There will be no honeymoon if you are already unfaithful before you even move in. Keeping Bush's Pentagon chief won't work.
Tom H. Hastings is director of PeaceVoice and a founder of Whitefeather Peace Community in Portland, OR. He is core faculty in the Portland State University Conflict Resolution masters program.