SALINA, Kan. - Recently, in between the outing of "First Farce," Donald Trump and the successful mission that killed Osama bin Laden was a little-commented upon announcement regarding the shake-up of President Obama's national security team. The changes are being set in motion by the upcoming retirement of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. When the widely-respected Gates steps this down this summer the nation will lose one of its exemplary public servants.
Bob Gates is that rare breed in Washington - someone who has reached a level of respect that transcends partisan politics, an individual held in high esteem for many reasons, primarily his reputation for professional competence. And although some will regard his career as a bit tainted due to questions about how much he knew about the Iran-Contra affair, his tenure as Defense Secretary has been widely admired.
A native of Wichita, Kansas, Gates came to government service via an academic career that culminated in his receipt of a PhD from Georgetown in Russian and Soviet history.
He entered the CIA in 1966, and after a two-year stint in the Air Force during which he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, he served the agency until 1993, the last year and a half as its Director. He is still the only person who began at the CIA as an entry level employee and rose all the way to the top of the organization. During his twenty-seven year career at the agency he also served four Presidents of both parties during nine years with the National Security Council.
When President Obama retained Gates in his cabinet after his election in 2008 he took a page out of President Clinton's playbook. In his second term Clinton had tapped Republican Senator William Cohen from Maine for Secretary of Defense. By choosing a prominent member of the opposition party for the post the President made an effort to take Defense policy out of the partisan arena. The move was largely successful.
President George W. Bush returned to the custom of choosing a Defense chief from the President's own party by bringing back the ideology and ego-driven Donald Rumsfield, who had served in the same post in the Nixon Administration. Rumsfield served for six years in the post, and when his presence in the Cabinet finally became politically untenable for the President, Bush put out the call to Gates, by then serving as President of Texas A & M University. Gates accepted the offer (and presumably an accompanying pay cut) to return to government service.
He proved to be a calming influence whose pragmatism and even-keeled demeanor have helped steer our military through some of the most difficult challenges of the 21st century to date. He has been able to provide leadership in areas ranging from Guantanamo to multiple foreign engagements and proposed cuts in the Defense budget due to the respect he commands from all sides.
When Gates explained his acceptance of newly-elected President Obama's offer to remain at his Defense post, he noted that during his tenure he had been forced to extend the deployments of thousands of our troops. Now, placed in a similar situation, it was necessary that he respond to the same call of duty and continue in his post.
In naming Gates'successor President Obama has chosen someone from his own party. And Leon Panetta is currently basking in the glow of the successful commando raid in Pakistan. Although it might have been preferable to choose someone from the other party, according to press reports Panetta was recommended by Bob Gates. Assuming that is in fact the case he's off to a good start.