Robert Gates leaves Obama in 2011. What’s next?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates hinted again that he plans to retire from his position in the Obama administration sometime in 2011.

The war in Afghanistan is in its most important stage. American troops and NATO allies with Afghanistan forces tagging along are trying to smoke the Taliban out of their last strongholds. The surge is on in Afghanistan. By the end of the year we will likely know the fate of the Kandahar operations. The impatient American public wants a wrap-up of the war. It is likely by the time Gates will retire we will know if the surge in Afghanistan is a success as was the final push in Iraq.

Bipartisanship is a hype word in Washington DC nowadays but very few people really served this great country in a nonpartisan way. Robert Gates is one of them – a true lion of the US government who was part of the administration of seven US Presidents.


He served on the National Security Counsel of five of them — George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon. You can see them on the picture. Each one of them depended in some way on Robert Gate’s expertise. He was there to clean up after Watergate, he warned the presidents about the aggressive Soviet policies in the Third World, he worked to prepare the Camp David agreement, and he supervised the covert operations in Afghanistan. Gates started at entry level position at CIA and became a Director of the Agency in the years 1991-1993 to preside over the crash of the Soviet Empire and the democratization of the Eastern Europe.

At first, CIA tried to train me to be a spy. However, my efforts were less James Bond and more Austin Powers – and I don’t mean that in a good way. One of my first training assignments was to practice secret surveillance with a team following a woman CIA officer around downtown Richmond, Virginia. Our team wasn’t very stealthy, and someone reported to the Richmond police that some disreputable-looking men – that would be me and my fellow CIA trainees – were stalking this poor woman. My two colleagues were picked up by the Richmond police, and the only reason I didn’t get arrested was because I had lost sight of her so early.

I – and CIA – concluded pretty quickly that I wasn’t cut out to be doing operations in the field, and instead I became a CIA analyst – one of the people who assess and interpret the information that comes in. And that led me into a career that allowed me to witness amazing moments in American history. So it may take you a few missteps and even embarrassments before you find the thing you’re really good at. But, keep at it.

Whatever the party, whatever the President’s name Robert Gates was there working for the advancing of the national security interests.

Gates left the government in 1993 to become director of the Texas A&M University. I can’t blame him for that. Just take a look at the Picture of Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin.

A serious person can only take so much. Gates stayed away from the government that chose to ignore the dangers of the post Soviet world.

After the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan the attention and the resources of the Government were directed to Eastern Europe. The tribal country was left without sufficient support to rebuild after a war that claimed millions of lives. The orphans in Afghanistan grew up in poverty and insecure environment. They had the arms and they had the Koran and they had nothing to do but to look for somebody to blame for their devastation of the land of violence, corruption and poppy fields. The terrorism was turning its face to America and the US was not paying enough attention to it.

The US and allies led covert operations that supplied weapons to the mujaheddin and drove the Soviets out of the country and into bankruptcy. Today Gates and the USA have to fight the ghost of that war that they won 23 years ago.

We are not going to abandon Afghanistan like we did in 1989

This is the promise Robert Gates keeps repeating this days. It is a message he hopes will go through to the folks in the region and give the US a chance to establish a relationship of trust. It is all hope as are the wheat fields that were supposed to take the place of the poppies.



After the 9/11 attack Gates realized he had some unfinished business he had to attend to. He came back to the government to help two more Presidents. He was appointed to be a Defense Secretary by George W Bush in 2006. Gates presided over the surge in Iraq which is one of the most heroic success stories in the US military.

President Obama announced he will count on Robert Gates as his Defense Secretary too. One of the specialties that Gates and his last President Boss share is their expertise in Arm Control. Barack Obama’s Columbia University senior thesis topic was the negotiations between the USSR and the USA on the nuclear disarmament. No copy of it exists in the library and Barack Obama said he had lost the one that he had owned. He was able to implement his thesis by negotiating with Russia as US President and reaching a new START treaty. Secretary Gates plugged-in for the document in front of the skeptical US Senate.
Robert Gates has a very practical approach to bureaucracy. His bio “From the Shadows” (written before his days as Defense Secretary) is a great study of the US government (at least of that part that is not classified).

Bureaucracy can help or it can stay on the way of national security issues. Out of control bureaucracy can cause a great damage. Recently Gates revealed a plan for reforms in the military bureaucracy. Will the plan stay in place after he is gone? Or will the ever winning federal government bureaucracy remain untouchable?

Some view Robert Gates as just a Washington survivor. Some believe he is a great servant for the American people. He says he always tried to do the right thing:

In the movie The Alamo, John Wayne – one of my favorite philosophers – says: “There’s right and there’s wrong. You’ve got to do one or the other. You do the one, and you’re living. You do the other and you may be walking around, but you’re as dead as a beaver hat.”

What’s next for Robert Gates? Run for president in 2012?

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