Speculation is bubbling at the prospect of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton becoming Secretary of Defense upon Robert Gates retirement in 2011.
Gates, the only Republican holdover from the Bush Administration, recently told "Foreign Policy
" magazine that he planned to step down next year.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said in an e-mail to reporters, "This is not Secretary Gates announcing his retirement. This is the secretary musing about when it would make sense for him to finally bow out. He has long said he would not serve the whole term and now he has told Foreign Policy that he thinks it best to leave with enough time on the administration's clock for his successor to be effective."
Still, it was enough to set off a name game of possible replacements, including Clinton. If Clinton accepted the position, she would be the first woman to hold it – another milestone in a historic political career.
On CNN Monday, William Cohen, the Republican Defense secretary during President Bill Clinton's second term, said Obama should go for bipartisanship and choose a Republican. That might not set well with Democrats since the last one of them to have the job was the late Les Aspin, a former Wisconsin congressman, who gave way to technocrat William Perry in 1994.
Possible candidates aside from Clinton include former Navy secretary Richard Danzig, who also served as a Obama campaign adviser, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) have also been touted as possible replacements.
Only one person – George C. Marshall
– has held both the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense positions. The Marshall Plan was named for him and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.
Hillary Clinton was an early supporter of the Bush's administration invasion of Iraq. In 2004, she said she did not regret her vote but did regret "the way the president used the authority." She later said that she would not have voted for the war if information on weapons of mass destruction had been clearer.
As Secretary of Defense, Clinton would be in charge of executing policies of military defense including all things Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since becoming Secretary of State, Clinton has certainly won plaudits from generals at the Pentagon and former military leaders.
Leslie Gelb, a onetime senior official at State and former chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, floated a "Hillary for Defense?" balloon in a Wall Street Journal article
in June, saying she had "terrific relations with the military brass."
The controversial Rolling Stone article
that cost Gen. Stanley McChrystal his military career quoted one of his advisers as saying, "Hillary had Stan's back during the strategic review. She said, 'If Stan wants it, give him what he needs.'"
Clinton has also been touted as a possible vice-presidential candidate if Obama chooses to replace Joe Biden. Clinton could be ideal for Secretary of Defense, says long-time Clinton watcher, Lara Brown, assistant professor of political science at Villanova University.
"Hillary Clinton's long track record of governmental service and engagement with world affairs – from her UN speech on behalf of women's rights to her position on the Armed Services committee in the Senate to her appointment as Secretary of State – makes her well-positioned to step into the Secretary of Defense position," Brown, told Politics Daily.
"Still, Clinton is likely to experience a learning curve should she move from Foggy Bottom to the Pentagon and from managing career-service diplomats to high-ranking military officers because the cultures of the two departments are significantly different," said Brown.
See David Wood's story: Robert Gates Plans a Last Hurrah to Control Defense Spending Before Retiring