What Will Be Robert Gates's Legacy?

The secretary of defense has hinted at a 2011 departure

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What will we say about Secretary of Defense Robert Gates after he steps down, as he has suggested he will do in 2011? Gates, who took over the Pentagon in 2006, has overseen the turning and draw-down of the Iraq War, the ramp-up of the Afghan war, and perhaps his most daunting challenge, reining in the military-industrial complex. Newsweek has made an attempt at this question with a story on Gates's post-Pentagon legacy. Here's what Newsweek and others have to say.

  • Last Mission: Overhaul Defense Dept. Newsweek's John Barry and Evan Thomas write, "As he turns 67 this month, serving in his final government post, he appears to be embarked on a kind of last crusade. ... The defense secretary's deeper complaint is about what he calls 'brass creep.' Roughly translated, it means having generals do what colonels are perfectly capable of doing. Generals require huge staffs and command structures: three-star generals serving four-stars, two-stars serving three, each tended by squadrons of colonels and majors. This sort of elaborate hierarchy may have been called for in Napoleon's day, but in an era of instant communication, Gates thinks the military could benefit from a much flatter, leaner management structure. ... He thinks he can persuade Congress to go along."

  • Reformer in the Pentagon, Unifier in the White House The Washington Post's David Ignatius finds "the essential Gates: independent, ornery, sentimental. ... Gates seems to like telling people off if they get in the way of his basic mission. This includes challenging generals and admirals who want to protect their perks, defying members of Congress who want more pork-barrel military spending, and pushing the system for faster delivery of armored vehicles, surveillance drones and medevac helicopters to protect soldiers. ... Rather than battling the secretary of state, the national security adviser or the CIA director, as did so many of his predecessors, Gates has helped bring the national security team together."
  • We at the Air Force Know His Darker Legacy¬† Retired U.S. Air Force Major General Charles Dunlap calls Gates, who began his career in the USAF, "an extremely clever CIA veteran, well-schooled in creating media hype when and where he wants. Hubris can, however, overtake even the savviest. ... I worry a lot about Secretary Gates' disquieting penchant for indulging near-term wants (and perceived needs) at the expense of long-term strategic interests. That's the kind of thinking that got Wall Street in trouble." Dunlap says Gates is not sufficiently deterring China. "Mark my words, for all Newsweek's veneration of Gates' budgetary visions, today's thinking about defense spending is hobbled by the Pentagon's inability to distinguish sufficiently between the serious challenge of irregular wars, and the need to deter truly existential threats posed by nation-states."
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