News / USA

Gates Ends US Defense Secretary Tour

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates walks with a group of service members at Forward Operating Base Waltman, Sunday, June 5, 2011, in Kandahar, Afghanistan
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates walks with a group of service members at Forward Operating Base Waltman, Sunday, June 5, 2011, in Kandahar, Afghanistan

Multimedia

Robert Gates will step down as U.S. Secretary of Defense on Thursday, after more than four years of service in the post under two presidents of different political parties.  He has overseen U.S. military surges in Iraq and Afghanistan and he leaves at a time when the U.S. military is facing a growing range of challenges.

A man above politics

Robert Gates was sworn into office in late-2006, during the administration of President George W. Bush at a crucial time during the war in Iraq.

His ability to stay in his post as long as he has is a tribute, some say, to his ability to put politics aside.

This is what former President Bush had to say about Gates after choosing him to take over for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

"He's [Gates] a man of integrity, candor and sound judgment.  He knows that the challenge of protecting our country is larger than any political party,” said Bush.

James Carafano, a national security analyst at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, says Gates has been successful because he does what his boss wants him to do.

"People often marvel at how could this person work for President Bush and President Obama, who have completely different leadership styles," he said.  "There is actually a lot of continuity in their foreign policies, but certainly the rhetoric of their foreign policies is completely different.  And yet, this same person serves them both very well."

Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns

When Gates became defense secretary, there were huge questions about the future of the war in Iraq.  He oversaw a troop surge there that analysts say helped turn the campaign around as well as a subsequent withdrawal, as security responsibility shifted to Iraqi authorities.

In Afghanistan, he has overseen a similar process which is moving into its drawdown phase.  Analysts note that although the future of both engagements is uncertain, Gates has made the safety, security and welfare of U.S. troops a top priority.

And his approach appears to resonate with the troops.

Gates spoke with the troops during his last visit to Afghanistan in early June.

"More than anybody except the president, I am responsible for you being here.  I am the person that signed the deployment papers that got you here and that weighs on me every day," he said.

As secretary of defense, Gates has made 12 trips to Afghanistan and more than a dozen to Iraq, always making a point to meet with those who put their lives on the line.

During a speech to the Marine Corps Association, Gates became visibly emotional as he spoke of Marine Corps Major Doug Zembiec, who was killed in May 2007 during his fourth tour in Iraq.

"Every evening, I write notes to the families of young Americans like Doug Zembiec," said Gates. "For you and for me, they are not names on a press release or numbers updated on a website.  They are our country's sons and daughters."

A straight-talker

Gates is known for being a straight-talker and has not walked quietly into the sunset during his last few months in office.  At a hearing on Capitol Hill earlier this month, Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski called Gates' remarks in recent farewell speeches "eyebrow-raising" and "jaw-dropping."

“You’ve dropped more bombs on some of these [speeches] than the Air Force,” said Mikulski.

Speaking at the United States Military Academy in February, Gates spoke of the changing nature of America's military and warned against large-scale wars similar to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” he said.

NATO allies

In a speech to members of NATO, he warned that a lack of funds from European members and frontline support were weakening the alliance.

But The Heritage Foundation's James Carafano says Gates' sharp remarks were too little, too late.

"Everything that Secretary Gates said going out the door is absolutely true.  NATO is not paying enough; we can't afford to take missions off the table; we have to buy new equipment.  He did nothing in his four years to prepare for that," he said.

Challenges ahead

As Gates leaves office, the Obama administration is grappling with an American public that has grown weary of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and pressure is building to cut defense spending.  Gates cautioned that it was crucial to consider what kind of a role the United States will play in the world.

“Are we basically sending a message to the rest of the world and I would say to China, to Iran, to North Korea, to a variety of other places, the U.S. is closing up shop and going home, and we’re headed toward fortress America again?” asked Gates

Gates says that is a huge question that administration officials, lawmakers and the American people will need to grapple with after he is gone.   

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid