Robert Gates: A Retrospective

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Trying to be a good soldier, Gates appeared to do rhetorical gymnastics in defending Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). “If a non-nuclear-weapon state is in compliance with the nonproliferation treaty and its obligations,” Gates explained, “the U.S. pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against it.” Instead, such an enemy “would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response”—even if that enemy “were to use chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies or partners.”  Gates then conceded that Obama’s NPR had removed the “calculated ambiguity” that had kept America’s enemies on notice and off balance for decades—and, not coincidentally, kept America and American forces safe from nuclear, biological or chemical attack.

Even so, Gates was not a yes man. For example, he called on Congress to pass legislation to prevent Gitmo detainees from being transferred into the United States.

Lately, Gates has shifted his focus to ending what he calls “the culture of endless money that has taken hold” inside the Pentagon. Although the military was the beneficiary of healthy infusions of cash after 9/11, the Pentagon’s top man has challenged his charges to do something the rest of Washington hasn’t been asked to do: spend less and spend smarter.

Specifically, Gates wants to cut defense spending “around $10 billion” in 2012 and up to $15 billion in follow-on years. Coincidentally, a congressionally-appointed panel proposes $1.1 trillion in defense cuts over the next decade, slashing weapons systems like the V-22 Osprey, eliminating up to 200,000 combat troops and mothballing 57 warships. Gates himself halted F-22 production at 187 planes, far short of the Air Force request of 381.

“Should we really be up in arms over a temporary projected shortfall of about 100 Navy and Marine strike fighters…when America’s military possesses more than 3,200 tactical combat aircraft of all kinds? Does the number of warships we have and are building really put America at risk when the U.S. battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies combined?” he asks. “Is it a dire threat that by 2020 the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?”

It’s a reasonable point. But it seems to sidestep an equally reasonable point: the notion that overwhelming firepower and cutting-edge technology serve to prevent what Churchill called “temptations to a trial of strength.”

In other words, the value of a squadron of stealth bombers, a fleet of super-carriers, a constellation of satellites and space sensors, an arsenal of nuclear-tipped ICBMs or a full quiver of F-22s is in their capacity not only to deter rising powers, but to deter them from even trying to challenge American power or the global order supported by that power.

Such dominance is costly, to be sure, but not as costly as enduring another cold war or waging a third world war. If history is any guide, we can expect to expend 6-10 percent of our GDP annually, rather than the current 3-4 percent, waging a full-blown cold war with a near-peer competitor like China. And the human and material costs of another global war—the kind that kills millions, the kind that destroys nations, the kind that we haven’t seen in 65 years—are unimaginable.

Of course, Gates knows this. He’s spent virtually his entire adult life positioning the U.S. to win the Cold War, preventing another world war and, since 2006, waging a war on terrorism. It’s unlikely his successor will be anywhere near as qualified.

Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security issues.

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  • 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.


  • 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.
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    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.

  • 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.