Robert Gates: A Retrospective

Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security.


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The slow-motion retirement of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who recently announced his intention to step aside at the end of 2011, offers a chance to take stock of his time at the helm of the Pentagon. It’s been an important, if imperfect, tenure. But Gates deserves credit and thanks for his sense of duty and commitment to something greater than self, namely, the country he has served for 45 years.

Any recap of Gates’ tenure has to begin and end with that sense of duty. It pays to recall that he took over at the Pentagon in the midst of a war that was spiraling out of control, against the howling headwinds unleashed by his predecessor’s controversial style and consequential decisions, and after the commander-in-chief had suffered a stinging defeat in the 2006 midterms. And then, when a new commander-in-chief with a new direction asked, Gates stayed on.

In a recent Foreign Policy profile, Gates explained, “I really didn’t want to be asked” to stay after President Obama’s victory. That’s because he knew if he were asked, he would not say no. “In the middle of two wars, kids out there getting hurt and dying, there was no way that I was going to say, ‘No.’”

It’s difficult to see how saying yes—either time—was self-serving.

The Bush-Obama handoff, in the middle hour of two wars, wasn’t fumbled, in large part, because of Gates, who carried out the successful surge strategy in Iraq and then helped plan the revised mission for Afghanistan.

It’s somewhat ironic that the surge happened under Gates. After all, he had been a part of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) before accepting President Bush’s call to return to Washington. And in 2006, the ISG was advocating something different than Bush’s troop surge. In fact, the commission called on the White House to launch a comprehensive diplomatic offensive to deal with the problems of Iraq, urged the president to “engage directly with Iran and Syria in order to try to obtain their commitment to constructive policies toward Iraq and other regional issues” and tried to tether Iraq to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Declaring that “Military priorities in Iraq must change, with the highest priority given to the training, equipping, advising, and support mission and to counterterrorism operations,” the commission’s realist wise men concluded that “The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is diminishing.”

Gen. Petraeus proved otherwise, and Gates gave him the tools and time to do so.

On Afghanistan, Gates talked tough—and meant it—about the halfhearted commitment of many of America’s NATO allies. “We must not—we cannot—become a two-tiered alliance of those who are willing to fight and those who are not,” he bluntly warned, adding that most NATO troops are simply “not trained in counterinsurgency,” which is the kind of war NATO is fighting in Afghanistan.

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  • http://www.resonoelusono.com/NaturalBornCitizen.htm Alexander Gofen

    Gates not a yes man?!!

    The first and the main crime of Gates is that he allowed to prosecute and imprison numerous marines – even before the war ended! Under him lives of American soldiers were cheaper than those of the enemies. The soldiers were forced to fight under impossible – unprecedented! – rules of engagement.

    As an exemplary yes-man under both administrations, Gates never dared to name the real enemy in this war – Islam. And so did his subordinates. Worse: they covered for Islam! They deliberately overlooked the overt Islamic terrorist within the army quarters, who succeeded to murder 13 and wound 30 soldiers right here in America! Even pressed against the wall, Gates refused to acknowledge the Islamic origin of the mass murderer shouting Allahu akbar…

    Yet Islamic chaplains (!) are welcomed in American Army, while the Christians are suppressed!!! And scholars critical on Islam are fired under Gates!

    It is because of Gates our soldiers in the military facilities are not allowed to carry their weapon, becoming easy target for any murderer.

    (continued)

  • http://www.resonoelusono.com/NaturalBornCitizen.htm Alexander Gofen

    Picking well where from the wind blows, Gates readily welcomes open homosexuals into the military – a sure cause to insult the great majority of our voluntary army and to jeopardize its integrity.

    The last but not the least: Gates acknowledges the "Commander-in-Thief", ignoring and covering up his illegitimacy.
    <a href="http://www.resonoelusono.com/NaturalBornCitizen.htm” target=”_blank”>www.resonoelusono.com/NaturalBornCitizen.htm

    Moreover, he tries to prosecute those who points at this illegitimacy. In the case of Maj. Cook, Gates "blinked" and canceled the order (just to avoid the hearing in merits). Now the case of Lt. Col. Lakin is in progress, and this time the army is in full gear to take revenge on Col. Lakin. Keep an eye on Gates…

    Not a yes man?

  • Chezwick_Mac

    Robert Gates' "slow motion retirement" is being used by the Administration to hollow out the American military with canceled weapons systems and funding cuts. His replacement would no doubt become a lightening-rod for public opposition to this assault on the military, so the lame-duck, non-partisan Gates continues to be useful to Obama.

    A case could be made that the US is bankrupt and can no longer afford a first-rate military, but that same logic is certainly not being applied to the proliferation of domestic spending.

  • http://www.pbase.com/opinion/maniacal 2maxpower

    given the results of Gates I do not consider him a success in anything more then his ability to survive the idiotic washington DC world.

    if you want to evaluate correctly answer this question. …is the USA stronger in the face of the world today? (granted that is not on his shoulders allow but if he isn't to blame then why has he not resigned).

    to put it succinctly he and the USA government on mass are failures.

  • USMCSniper

    Gates lost my confidence when he cancelled the F-22 stealth figher while the Russians and the Chinese deploy the SA-400 auto targeting anti-aircraft multi-missle platforms and the Russians go into full production for their Sukhoi built T-50 PAK-FA fighter (F-22 equivalent). Yep,,, Gates made a good hey-boy for the clandestine Muslim Marxist in the oval office.

    • buzzard

      The T-50 is not even a vague equivalent of an F-22. Hell, it's not even a match for an F-35. To be blunt, there is nothing in the world even on the drawing boards which is a match for an F-22.

      While in the face of the silly levels of domestic profligate spending, cutting the military seems inane, chopping the F-22 instead of the F-35 was basically without recourse. There are too many international partners on the F-35, and it is supposed to be the mainstay tactical aircraft.

      I'd like more F-22s myself, but the U.S. is looking to be broke, and some cuts had to be made. I'd rather them in domestic BS spending, but the public elected a progressive and you know what that means.

      • USMCSniper

        The available evidence demonstrates at this time that a mature production PAK-FA design has the potential to compete with the F-22A Raptor in VLO performance from key aspects, and will outperform the F-22A Raptor aerodynamically and kinematically. Therefore, from a technological strategy perspective, the PAK-FA renders all legacy US fighter aircraft, and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, strategically irrelevant and non-viable after the PAK-FA achieves IOC in 2015. Detailed strategic analysis indicates that the only viable strategic survival strategy now remaining for the United States is to terminate the Joint Strike Fighter program immediately, redirect freed funding to further develop the F-22 Raptor, and employ variants of the F-22 aircraft as the primary fighter aircraft for all United States and Allied TACAIR needs. If the United States does not fundamentally change its planning for the future of tactical air power, the advantage held for decades will be soon lost and American air power will become an artefact of history.

  • antifascist18

    This article is unbelieveable!____Rummy made one big mistake – and a bad one at that when he refused initially to put enough "boots on the ground" in Iraq.But Sec. Rumsfeld was so much better for this country in so many ways than RINO opportunist Gates, a tool of the Baker-Scowcroft-Hagel-Lugar "moral relativist" – aka Saudi paid wing of the Republican party. Of course John McBozo aka McCain, who also detested Rummy, loved Gates too.____So what did WE get with him? We're losing in Afghanistan. He bussed BO's ass when BO betrayed the Poles and Czechs with the abrupt cancellation of the missile shield. He cancelled the F-22 EVEN when most Air Force commanders felt that plane was not only needed but had some qualities that the F-35 – only going into service – did not have. He is pushing the Gay agenda, and many if not most of those he has hired for key Defense Department positions are anti-Military Democrats like the ridiculous Michele Flournoy and the obnoxious Mara Rudman.____Yes, I'm quite sure anyone BO replaces Gates with will be worse but to defend this ultimate arse kisser is inexcusable. He did not serve the United States of America, only his own sorry bleep.