Public Perception and Gates’s Legacy

Whoever succeeds Robert Gates as secretary of defense will have a difficult task. But not just for the reason most commonly mentioned, namely that the defense budget will not continue to grow as it has for the past decade. While it is true that if the nation is to deal win a meaningful way the defense budget will have to decline in current and constant dollars, the real problem for Gates’s successor is that Gates’s actions have not matched his rhetoric and that he does not deserve many of the accolades his is receiving.

Let me give a few examples. First, Gates went to West Point and said that any secretary of defense who recommends sending large land armies into the Middle East, Asia, or Africa should have his head examined. This is from a person who recommended sending over 100,000 additional troops into Iraq and Afghanistan (the Middle East and Asia). Moreover, when confronted by a Wall Street reporter about this apparent contradiction, Gates responded by saying he wished he had not said it.

This article was originally published in National Journal Online.