Is Robert Gates Really Leaving in 2011?

He's put in his time. But what if Obama asks him to stay?

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In a sweeping interview with Foreign Policy magazine, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he will step down in 2011 after the president's Afghanistan strategy review is completed. Speaking to national-security writer Fred Kaplan, Gates said:

I think that by next year I'll be in a position where -- you know, we're going to know whether the strategy is working in Afghanistan. We'll have completed the surge. We'll have done the assessment in December. And it seems like somewhere there in 2011 is a logical opportunity to hand off.. I think that it would be a mistake to wait until January 2012... This is not the kind of job you want to fill in the spring of an election year.

In no time, the idea of Gates leaving next year lit up the political blogosphere. However, given Gates's willingness to follow his commander-in-chief's requests, how likely is a 2011 departure? The following writers are skeptical:

  • Gates Still Has Unfinished Business, writes NBC's Jim Miklaszewski: "He and his staff have repeatedly said Gates would likely retire in 2011 assuming that two conditions are met: the Afghanistan 'surge' strategy must be set and underway, and the stage must be set to control Pentagon spending. Gates also wants to be directly involved in the selection of senior military officers who will replace a number of 3-and-4 star generals and admirals in key positions over much of the next year."

  • If Obama Presses Him, He Won't Leave, writes Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway: "If the President tells Gates that he wants him to stick around for at least the rest of Obama’s current term, I can’t imagine Robert Gates being the kind of guy who would turn such a request down. So, stay tuned."

  • With Gates Gone, Who Will Slash Military Spending? worries Michael Scherer at Time: "Considering that the 2012 election season is set to begin at the end of 2010, this may suggest an early 2011 exit for Gates. Gates departure may be felt less on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where there are many cooks in the kitchen, than in his personal crusade to bring some level of rationality to the defense budget. It's an uphill slog that now depends significantly on Gates own credibility and star power. Fareed Zakaria asks today, 'Can anyone seriously question Gates's ideas on the merits?' Probably not. But with Gates gone, it will be that much easier for the approriators and the lobbyists to gain, once again, the upper hand."

  • This Is Overblown, says Geoff Morrell, Gates's press secretary: "I’m not sure what the news is here. 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."

  • Let's Talk About Potential Replacements, writes Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy: "Top candidates include Michèle Flournoy, the current under secretary of defense for policy, John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig. The oft-mooted move of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the Pentagon is less likely. (Gates's people say trying to figure out the short list is premature.)"

  • This Is Vintage Gates, writes Noah Shachtman at Wired: "The headline writers have decided: Bob Gates is leaving the Pentagon next year. But is that really the case? The Defense Secretary has a history of departure declarations — only to rescind them, when the President asks him to stay... Gates in 2007 kept a countdown clock that ticked off the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until January 20, 2009, when President George W. Bush would leave office and Gates could retire to his home in the Pacific Northwest... Then President-elect Barack Obama asked Gates to stick around in a November 2008 meeting in a Virginia hotel room, shortly after the election. Suddenly, it all became quite conceivable. Gates said yes, right away."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.