Gates' Pentagon Shakeup

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Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates

In trying to shake things up just a little at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Bob Gates took one ordinary — and one extraordinary —step this week.

The ordinary step was that, after several weeks of speculation, he named some new members and a new chairman to oversee the Defense Policy Board, a somewhat obscure Pentagon panel that nonetheless wields considerable influence on military matters.

The extraordinary step was that the man he named to run the board, John Hamre, is a longtime Democratic wise man and former Pentagon deputy boss under Bill Clinton.

Hamre is about as far as you can get from the man who oversaw the Policy Board until 2004: Reagan Pentagon official and neo-conservative hero Richard Perle. Hamre runs the distinctly moderate and internationalist Center for Strategic and International Studies, had a hand in organizing the Iraq Study Group, and has served on a number of advisory commissions about Iraq for the last few years. He is on any reasonable person's shortlist to be Gates' replacement as Defense Secretary in a Democratic administration. Hamre, from South Dakota, is an affable 57-year-old who is known to be concerned about the health of the services in the future and yet managed to get along with Gates' predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. As one longtime Pentagon official told TIME, "John is just an all around stand-up guy. We'd be lucky to have him back."

The Policy Board chairman has some latitude to launch studies into issues that concern him, and some Democrats, including many who have put great trust and hope in Gates, have suggested that Hamre's appointment represents an important changing of the guard at the Pentagon.

But that is probably overblown. Hamre will proceed carefully. Besides, Gates, an old cold warrior, knows all about the balance of power. And partly as a result, he also named two notable Bush administration veterans to the Board at the same time: former NSC director Bob Joseph and deputy NSC adviser J.D. Crouch. Both have spent years working for the President on foreign policy and are personally identified with the foundation of America's adventure in Iraq. They will join other Republican notables like Henry Kissinger, Newt Gingrich and Fred Ikle.

Just a reminder that when change comes to the Pentagon, it comes slowly.