When the generals decided not to buy vehicles designed to deflect roadside bombs – since they might not be useful in future conflicts – Gates overruled them. In the view of this SecDef, protecting our troops now is more important than fantasies about tomorrow.
That said, Gates respects his generals just as he values the privates. He just won’t tolerate substandard performers. His motto could well be “Never imperious, always curious.”
In other words, he’s the anti-Rumsfeld. As SecDef, Donald Rumsfeld surrounded himself with yes-men. Gates seeks out the best men.
Rumsfeld assumed he knew everything. Gates understands that learning never stops.
The Rumsfeld Pentagon ran a propaganda organization that amounted to a self-licking ice-cream cone. Gates disdains self-promotion.
When the going got tough, Rummy sent his underlings out to take the hits. When Gates makes tough decisions, he stands in the line of fire himself – as he did last week in front of those Air Force audiences.
While the Rumsfeld Pentagon was subservient to the defense industry, from Boeing to Blackwater (to say nothing of Halliburton and the like), Gates insists on giving our troops – and taxpayers – the best value for our defense dollars. (The contractors hope to wait him out.)
Rumsfeld was a bully. Gates is a warrior.
Few Americans will miss the Bush administration. But the men and women in uniform will miss Bob Gates. He’s the model of what a public servant should be.