A Pentagon after Gates: What's the new defense chief's mission?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates briefly visited the Great Wall of China after three days of meetings seeking smoother U.S.-Sino military ties.


By Published: April 23, 2011

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates took his post nearly five years ago, his top priority was salvaging the faltering U.S.-led war effort in Iraq, The National Journal reports. As he prepares to step down this summer, the Defense chief has a new mission: shaping the terms of the coming debate over how much the Pentagon’s budget should be cut to help close the nation’s yawning deficit.

Gates regularly has warned that the Pentagon was in for a prolonged period of belt-tightening, but the cutbacks now appear to be coming sooner—and to potentially be much larger—than he had envisioned.  In January, Gates announced plans to cut $78 billion from the Pentagon’s budget over the next five years.  Last week, by contrast, President Obama said he wanted Gates to help find $400 billion in additional defense-related cuts over the next 12 years, a much larger reduction than senior Pentagon officials had been expecting.

Gates is uniquely well-positioned to shape the coming debate. He will leave office in coming months as one of the most popular and well-respected Defense secretaries in U.S. history. The Bush administration holdover is credited with salvaging the Iraq mission, scrapping an array of costly and unproven weapons programs, and restoring a much-needed sense of accountability to the Pentagon by firing scores of generals and additional senior officers.  He has enjoyed strong support from GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill, allowing him to help rebuff Republican accusations that the administration’s earlier Pentagon budget cuts were weakening American national security.

Read "The mission for the new defense chief" in the National Journal.