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

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    Why Islamic State Is Down But Not Out

    Despite loss of territory, group’s ferocious attacks over past three months seen as testimony to its continued durability and resourcefulness

    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.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora