What can Robert Gates achieve in extra year at Pentagon?
Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced recently that he will stay on at least another year. That will help him shepherd some of his Pentagon reforms – and perhaps start new ones.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s decision to stay on another year allows him to cement many of the policy and budgetary moves that have been the hallmarks of his tenure.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Gates, the only holdover from the Bush administration and an acknowledged Republican, has emerged in the Obama White House as one of the most respected senior advisers.
He has long portrayed himself as a reluctant leader willing to serve only as long as the president wishes it. But he has also been eager to make a lasting mark on defense policy. Now, having announced that he will stay on for “at least” another year, he may be in a position to secure his reputation as a reformer.
“His influence will continue to grow,” says Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank. “A lot of the programs and initiatives that he has been pushing will take some time to implement, and the longer he stays around, the better his chances are for them to take hold.”
Gates the reformer
Gates will also be able to oversee the new strategy in Afghanistan of which he was a chief architect, as well the drawdown of forces in Iraq. But his tenure is having a broader reach. Gates has attempted to steer the Pentagon away from expensive programs that are less relevant to today’s wars.
He was largely successful in canceling or slowing programs that he deemed irrelevant, most notably the F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighter, which was cast as
an outdated technology more suitable for a conventional war than for tracking terrorists.
The question is whether Gates will simply steward the reforms he put in place last year or seek to expand them. Mr. Harrison believes he will go further.
Harrison likens the challenges the Defense Department confronts to that of GM: high healthcare, pension, and personnel costs. He believes Gates may try to rein in some of those costs, which now account for some 60 percent of the budget.