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Continuity in wartime behind Obama’s decision on Gates

Keeping the Defense secretary allows Obama's team to move quickly on a foreign-policy challenges.

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An incoming administration rarely retains cabinet members of the outgoing administration, but President-elect Obama's apparent decision to keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates may reflect the extraordinary issues confronting the new president.

Mr. Obama is expected to announce early next week that he will keep Mr. Gates on for as long as a year, in part to maintain continuity during the first wartime transition in 40 years. Any drawbacks in keeping Gates are more than countered by the pluses, say experts.

Keeping Gates would be the best course of action, says William Fallon, who oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan until retiring as head of US Central Command this spring. Having served in top military positions during transitions of both President Bush and President Clinton, Mr. Fallon says it can take "many months" for a new administration to get up to speed.

Obama doesn't have that luxury. Thus, keeping Gates would allow his team to move quickly to address the myriad military challenges confronting the new administration.

Gates also appears willing to offer cuts to weapons programs to support Obama's stated goal to trim government spending.

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