JUST BELOW GATES…. Following up on this morning’s item, one of the key decisions for Barack Obama relating to the Pentagon is not just whether to keep Robert Gates on as Defense Secretary, but also determining who will make up the rest of the senior leadership in the department.

Chris Bowers argued yesterday, “If Gates were kept on as Secretary of Defense, it apparently would also mean that all of his top advisors would also stay on.” That, of course, matters quite a bit — as reasonable as Gates is, his deputies have considerable influence on Pentagon decision-making, and they’re not as inclined towards pragmatism as their boss.

It’s encouraging, then, that while Gates appears to be staying on, his immediate team is likely to see some significant changes. The Washington Post reported earlier that, whether Gates takes on a short-term or long-term role in the Obama administration, “most of the deputies serving under him would be replaced.”

And who are they being replaced with? The news is encouraging on this front, too.

Secretary Gates’ deputy at the Pentagon is slated to be Richard Danzig, who was Navy secretary under President Clinton. The #3 (policy) will PROBABLY be Michele Flournoy, a Clinton administration veteran who was dual-hatted as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and threat reduction, and deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy.

If the report proves accurate, Flournoy will replace Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman, who, as Yglesias noted, is “Gates’ most pernicious subordinate” and a former aide to Dick Cheney.

For those discouraged by the Gates news, this should at least be mildly reassuring.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.