Robert M. Gates was called from his post as president of Texas A&M University two years ago to become U.S. secretary of defense. The rancorous Donald Rumsfeld had become emotionally overextended and was something of a one-trick pony as Pentagon chief. President George W. Bush had good reason to believe Gates would do far better in the job.
Gates has done a good job, and there are positive signs in President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to carry him into his administration. The Pentagon boss is a good friend of the Bush family. He was interim dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at A&M and took over as school president in 2002. But he seems quite able to “cross the aisle,” politically speaking.
Gates was reluctant to leave his College Station assignment but has done much to restore public trust and confidence in the Defense Department in a relatively short time. He did so well, in fact, that Obama asked him to stay, for at least one year. This marks the first time a Pentagon chief has been carried over from a president of a different party. Though a Republican, Gates reportedly has great respect and trust among Democrats.
Secretary Gates rose through the ranks to become CIA director under President George H.W. Bush. He also served on his National Security Council as he had done for presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Now 65, he helped lead U.S. efforts to drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan in the 1980s. He was deputy national security adviser during Operation Desert Storm, the first U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
During his brief tenure, Gates has fired the Army and Air Force secretaries as well as the Air Force chief of staff for bad performance. Things got better.
He supported the Iraq war and the military buildup there but he has endorsed new efforts to draw down forces in Iraq and bolster troop numbers in Afghanistan. Obama embraces such a strategy.
It could be that Gates will fit in so well with the new administration that his time on the job will be extended further. Obama wants him now and might want him even more a year from now.
Obama’s explanation: “When it comes to war and peace, maybe wisdom is better.” It seems he will have the benefit of the wisdom and experience of the highly regarded Robert Gates. In view of current developments and past errors in judgment, this looks like an excellent appointment.
It also shows the patriotism of Gates that he is willing to stay in this vital position even though it is known he had been looking forward to returning to the presidency at Texas A&M. His country comes first.