What We've Learned From Robert Gates

A look back at the retiring defense secretary's career
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 28, 2011 7:20 AM CDT
What We've Learned From Robert Gates
Defense Secretary Robert Gates meets with troops at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Sharana in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, Monday, June 6, 2011.   (AP Photo/Jason Reed, Pool)

With Robert Gates, who has served eight presidents over four decades, about to retire, the Washington Post looks back at how Gates operated in the Pentagon. He’s been “careful, conservative, and consensus-oriented,” writes Greg Jaffe, and he’s “earned a reputation as the most ruthlessly efficient defense secretary in decades.” So what can we learn from his tenure?

  • Buy time. Defense Department reviews following troop surges in Iraq and Afghanistan gave Presidents Bush and Obama a sense of the military’s trajectory—and they bought time against critics calling for quick drawdowns.

  • It's OK to cry. Gates was tough—but he knew when to show emotion. Many speeches found him choked up; such feeling “captured the hearts of a lot of mid-grade officers,” said an official.
  • Keep it to yourself. Hillary Clinton pointed out that Gates “listens more than he talks,” because “he knows his words carry a lot of weight.”
  • Understand your limits. “My experience has been over the years that if you try to impose change on an organization” like the US Army, “you will fail,” Gates said.
Click here for the full article. (Read more Robert Gates stories.)

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