Robert Gates left his job as secretary of defense at the end of June to virtually universal hosannas. Retrospectives of his four and a half years in office invariably noted he was the first defense secretary to serve presidents of two different parties. That he was able to become a central member of the Obama administration after having held senior posts in the Reagan administration and both Bush administrations is, if nothing else, a tribute to the survival skills of this career government bureaucrat who got his start as a lowly CIA analyst on the Soviet desk in the 1960s. A certified Washington “wise man” of the old school, he provided not only veteran counsel but also bipartisan cover for President Obama, who came into office with little background or credibility on defense issues.
He ended his tenure at the Pentagon as one of the most effective defense secretaries in American history. Yet, for all his achievements, major questions remain about his legacy, as he himself acknowledged in an extraordinary and unprecedented series of speeches and interviews he gave on his way out of office. By the end of his service, Gates had managed the diffi cult feat of putting himself at odds not only with Obama but also with many conservatives—while earning the respect of both. In order to evaluate his sometimes scathing critique of national-security policy, we must first glance at his tenure.
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