Will Barack Obama Unleash Bob Gates?

Keeping Robert Gates as Defense secretary has been widely hailed as a sign of continuity. But are there changes Gates should make once he's not working for George W. Bush and, especially, Donald Rumsfeld's patron, Dick Cheney? Kill the F-22? Shift DoD dollars to State? End the supplemental funding ruse? What changes should he pursue?

Since taking over for Don Rumsfeld, after the Republicans lost control of Congress in the 2006 elections, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has talked about things that should be done when it comes to defense spending as well as overall spending for national security. For example, he has said that the U.S. cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, that the Pentagon must set priorities and consider inescapable trade-offs and opportunity costs, that spending for counterinsurgency should receive higher priority in the defense budget, that F-22 production should be capped at 180, and that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security.

However, in the FY2007, 2008, and 2009 budgets, which were prepared on his watch, he has failed to match words with deeds. For example, while he said the Air Force should not purchase any more F-22s, he did not close down the production line, saying he would leave that to the next administration. Moreover, while the baseline defense budget (exclusive of war costs) grew by nearly 20 percent in real terms over the past three years, the budget for the State Department remained essentially flat. In fact, the increase that Gates requested for the FY2009 defense budget exceeded the total budget for international affairs. And in January 2007 and again in January 2008, Secretary Gates made no trade-offs and actually revised the five year spending plan upward. Finally, in the war supplemental he submitted to Congress on December 31, 2008, he requested funding for four more F-22s!

Read more



The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Lawrence J. Korb

Senior Fellow