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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed 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.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs