Gates: ‘No way I could say no’ to Obama
ARLINGTON, Va. — Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters that it was "inconceivable" that he would stay in his current job under a new administration.
"It was my hope that if I made enough noise about how much I did not want to stay here and how much I wanted to go back to the northwest that I wouldn’t have to worry about the question ever being asked, because I also knew myself well enough to know that if the question was asked, what the answer would be," Gates told reporters Tuesday.
When it became clear that President-elect Barack Obama would ask him to stay on, Gates initially hoped that Obama would change his mind.
But on Monday, Obama introduced Gates along with the rest of his national security team.
"With the country fighting two wars, our men and women in uniform at risk, if the president asked me to help, there was no way I could say no," Gates said.
On Tuesday, Gates held his first news conference at the Pentagon following the news that he would be part of the new president’s cabinet.
"I have no intention of being a caretaker secretary," he said. "Our challenges from the budget to acquisition and procurement reform, war strategy, care of wounded warriors, meeting the needs of warfighters, decisions on important modernization and capitalization projects and more all demand the personal attention of the secretary of Defense, and they will get it."
Gates also said he is not at odds with Obama’s goal of withdrawing combat troops from Iraq over 16 months, noting that Obama has said the withdrawal must be done responsibly and he would listen to commanders.
By the end of June 2009, all 18 Iraqi provinces will fall under provincial Iraqi control, he said.
"I think that the commanders are already looking at what the implications of that are in terms of accelerating the drawdown," Gates said.
He also noted that the proposed status of forces agreement between the United States and Iraq has a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.
"So that bridge has been crossed, and so the question is how do we do this in a responsible way," Gates said.