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An American Defense Policy

Everyone in Washington claims to favor bipartisanship. The difficulty occurs when someone actually tries to practice it. This instantly and inevitably triggers sniping from partisans.

For a small but telling example, see this Washington Times article (previously linked to on contentions) about the selection of John Hamre to chair the Defense Policy Board, a prestigious but powerless group of senior statesmen who advise the Secretary of Defense on various issues. The board used to be headed by Richard Perle, who became a lightning rod for the administration’s detractors. Now Robert M. Gates has selected Hamre, a quintessential technocrat who is currently president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and who, during the Clinton administration, served as comptroller of the Pentagon and Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Hamre is a well-respected figure known for his solidly centrist views and not someone, you would think, who would excite much partisan passion—especially when appointed to nothing more than an advisory position. Yet Bill Gertz of the Washington Times manages to dredge up toxic quotations from anonymous detractors:

“With or without his approval, President Bush’s team has apparently begun the transition to the third Clinton administration,” said one official, in reference to the possible election of Hillary Rodham Clinton next year. “We can see now that with the possible exception of the President himself, their hearts and minds just never were into governing as Republicans.”

“This begs the question of whether the Secretary agrees with the Hamre-Clinton policies, like gays in the military, Draconian defense cuts, women in combat, and environmental friendliness,” said a defense official.

The Hamre-Clinton policies? Give me break. What are these dreaded policies anyway? Are conservatives supposed to be opposed to “environmental friendliness”? Women are already in combat, and it hasn’t been an issue. Gays are also becoming more accepted within the military. As for “Draconian defense cuts,” they were instigated by the administration of Bush Senior following the end of the Cold War.

Whatever you make think of these policies, they are not determined by second- or third-level Pentagon officials; they come right from the top. To blame or credit Hamre for these initiatives is akin to blaming or crediting former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith for launching the Iraq War—a canard spread only by crackpots.

Give it a rest, guys.

Hamre is exactly the kind of centrist Democrat to whom the Bush administration should have been reaching out from the start. I realize it’s a myth that “politics stops at the water’s edge”—but it’s a nice myth and one that policymakers on both sides would do well to cultivate. And that means cultivating figures from the other side of the aisle.

We shouldn’t have a Republican or Democratic defense policy. We need an American policy.



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