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Gates: Ruffling Feathers ‘Part of Leadership’

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Photo: Defense.gov

“It is not at all unusual to hear the Pentagon being criticized for its bloat, bureaucracy and spending binges,” CBS news program 60 Minutes began its report on soon-to-retire Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

But what makes this particular criticism so insightful and hard-hitting is that it comes from the Pentagon’s head honcho, himself.

Gates, who has announced he will step down this summer, took questions on a variety of topics, from the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden by an elite team of Navy SEALs to his mission to cut waste and inefficiency at DoD.

Speaking about the bin Laden operation, Gates described it as a “perfect fusion of intelligence collection, intelligence analysis and military operations.”

The only defense secretary to serve both a Democratic and Republican administration, Gates said President Barack Obama’s decision to authorize the operation against bin Laden was one of the gutsiest he’d ever seen.

“I worked for a lot of these guys,” he said. “And this is one of the most courageous calls, decisions that I think I’ve ever seen a president make … The uncertainty of the intelligence. The consequences of it going bad. The risk to the lives of the Americans involved. It was a very gutsy call,” Gates said.

Gates acknowledged, in a career spanning the CIA and the National Security Council, heading the Pentagon is the toughest job he’s ever had.

One of his biggest frustrations is navigating a department often ill-suited to the nimbleness required of modern warfare.

“I think the hardest thing for me to deal with is leading a department that is organized to plan for war but not to fight a war,” he explained. “And so everything that I’ve wanted to do to try and help the men and women in the field, I’ve had to do outside the normal Pentagon bureaucracy. And I’ve had to be directly involved on a week-to-week basis to make sure that it got done. That’s been very frustrating.”

Gates acknowledged that, in shaking up the department, he’s ruffled a few feathers.

“But I think that’s part of leadership,” he added. “One of my favorite little sayings is to avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

Clearly, Gates has not followed that strategy. But even having said and done much, Gates continues to receive high marks from across the political spectrum and even the unlikeliest of quarters as he prepares to retire.

In December, MTV’s college network named Gates it’s first-ever “Man of the Year,” (alongside “Woman” rapper Nicki Minaj) because “he stood up for what was right and made historic changes to the system by focusing on the issues at hand rather than partisan rhetoric.”

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