One of the defense world's favorite parlor games is guessing when a Defense Secretary will depart and why. The departure of Robert Gates will be particularly signficant as it will clear the way for the Obama administration's first real pick to lead the Pentagon.
The latest intel we've got on Robert Gates' departure, from a well-placed source, puts it in "early next year." The secretary has given his all and set some very high bars in the last few weeks, between his calls for the Navy to reconsider its carrier and submarine forces, his calls for the Pentagon bureaucracy to be flattened and his efforts to force the military and the country to make more basic strategic choices. Given how much personal and political capital Gates has expended, and how much the Obama administration stands to gain from his efforts, it is unlikely Gates will leave until most of the 2012 budget details are decided. That would be he his last chance to make a major statement and reshape the military to better handle irregular or hybrid warfare and to respond to change more rapidly and more effectively.
Who's top of the list to replace Gates? Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island tops most lists. The West Point graduate has years of experience on the Senate Armed Services Committee and is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, where he works on veterans issues and military construction. John Hamre, deputy Defense Secretary during the Clinton administration and now head of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is one of the capital's most respected defense wallahs. Finally, Richard Danzig is still on some lists, though word is that his chances has slimmed considerably.