More Fire For Gates

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Elliott Abrams, the polarizing Reagan Administration State Department official, now hangs his hat at the centrist Council on Foreign Relations. But there’s no moderation in his zinging of Defense Secretary Robert Gates for some of his comments Thursday before Congress. Abrams especially didn’t like Gates’ eyebrow raising remark that there would be no U.S. boots on the ground “as long as I am in this job.”

Who elected Bob Gates? That is a decision the President, or the President and Congress, should make. The Secretary of Defense has the obligation to give the President his unvarnished views—privately. It is wrong, and subversive of the President’s constitutional role, for the Secretary of Defense to threaten that he would resign if the President makes that decision. How else can one read Gates’s remark except as saying “I oppose this, and I won’t do it, and if the President orders me to do it I will quit.” Mr. Gates is a short-timer and apparently now feels free to escape White House discipline and substitute himself for the President. If that is his view he should resign his post now. The right answer – indeed the only acceptable answer – to the question about “boots on the ground” was “The President will make that decision.”

UPDATE: Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell points out that Abrams’ contention is based on a “selective reading” of more than six hours of testimony by Gates, who repeatedly made it clear Thursday there is no daylight between the defense secretary and the commander-in-chief over their mutual opposition to putting U.S. boots on the ground in Libya.