Gates Chooses Democrat to Chair Policy Board

In a further indication of Robert Gates’ efforts to move U.S. policy closer to the center a la Baker-Hamilton, he has appointed John Hamre, the former deputy defense secretary under Bill Clinton, to head the Defense Policy Board (DPB), the advisory body that played an important role under Richard Perle’s chairmanship immediately after 9/11 in moving U.S. policy toward war with Iraq. (At Perle’s invitation, Ahmad Chalabi took part in its supposedly highly classified deliberations just a few days after 9/11, and many of the DPB’s members at the time — including James Woolsey, Eliot Cohen, Kenneth Adelman, as well as Perle himself — became the most ubiquitous cheerleaders for war 18 months that followed.)

Hamre has served as president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) here since 2000 and is known to have been both very sceptical of the case for war before the invasion and highly critical of the occupation after it. Consistent with his career as a Washington national-security insider, however, he has generally preferred to voice his views privately, rather than publicly, a practice that has, according to knowledgeable sources, caused him some considerable moral regret, which makes his selection by Gates all the more interesting. It is also notable that Gates chose as yet another new DPB member Hamre’s former boss under Clinton, William Perry.

Aside from those two choices, however, Gates played to the right in his new appointments to the Board, choosing three former administration hawks: former Deputy National Security Adviser J.D. Crouch; former State Department arms-control honcho, Robert Joseph; and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Peter Rodman; as well as the just-retired chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Peter Pace.

Despite the addition of Hamre and Perry, the Board is still dominated by Rumsfeld’s appointees and will retain a decidedly hawkish cast. Prominent neo-conservatives who remain include Devon Gaffney Cross (whom I have previously profiled), China specialist Aaron Friedberg; Ruth Wedgewood of the School of Advanced International Studies; and James Q. Wilson. Other hard-liners include former Rumsfeld spokesperson Victoria Clarke; ret. Adm. Vern Clark; Newt Gingrich; Undersecretary of Defense for Policy under Reagan, Fred Ikle; ret. Gen. (and Surge architect) Jack Keane; Rodman mentor, Henry Kissinger; ret. Gen. (and Rumsfeld poodle) Richard Myers; Nadia Schadlow; former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger; Smith Richardson Foundation exec (who also worked as Afghanistan Policy Coordinator in Rumsfeld’s office, Marin Strmecki; former Republican Rep. Vin Weber; and former Rumsfeld aide, Christopher Williams. (Incidentally Strmecki, Devon Cross, and Schadlow have all worked at Smith Richardson. The only other member who is identifiable as a Democrat is Jimmy’s Carter’s former Pentagon chief, Harold Brown.
Hamre’s choice has definitely raised some right-wing hackles, as the Washington Times’ national-security reporter Bill Gertz assailed the new chairman as a “pacifist” (presumably because he defended the 1972 ABM Treaty, among other things that the Bush administration repudiated). In his weekly column, “Inside the Ring,” Gertz quoted one Pentagon “official,” as saying, “With or without his approval, President Bush’s team has apparently begun the transition to the third Clinton administration. We can see now that with the possible exception of the president himself, their hearts and minds just never were into governing as Republicans.” [I know a lot of Republicans who would agree with that, albeit not in the sense that the official meant it!] Another official quoted by Gertz questioned Hamre’s “credentials for the job, other than the deluded notion that somehow giving a Clintonite a board seat might make Hillary, should she win, more amenable to the department.”

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.