If Defense Secretary Robert Gates feels any twinge of wistfulness when he departs the Pentagon on Thursday, it probably won't last long. Even during the Bush years, Mr. Gates spoke often of the clock in his office by which he counted down the days until he could retire to his beloved Washington State. When President Obama asked him to stay on as defense secretary, Gates made no secret that he did so out of public duty, not an affinity for Washington, D.C. But Washington insiders certainly had an affinity for Gates. Here are three reasons America’s longest-serving secretary of Defense will be missed – and legacies that many hope will last after he's gone.
After President Obama outlines his strategy Wednesday for winding down the 10-year war in Afghanistan – including the rate of US troop withdrawals – it will be the duty of three men, all new in their roles, to get it done. It will be a tough job, and there is likely to be plenty of second-guessing not only about the strategy itself, but also their handling of it, from Congress, pundits, and ex-military types. Here are some clues into what priorities these three defense leaders might set and a look at the particular skills each brings to the task of managing America’s longest war.