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Gates retiring? Don't bet on it.

For a man who came into his post reluctantly and as a purported short-timer, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is turning into more and more of a fixture at the Pentagon.

In an interview with ForeignPolicy.com that was published Monday, Gates indicated once again that his tenure would be coming to an end in the near term, saying he would step down in 2011. "I think that it would be a mistake to wait until January 2012," he said, noting that he didn't want to force President Obama to find a successor in the spring of a presidential election year.

But don't hold your breath that Gates will permanently move back to his home in Washington state anytime soon. His press secretary, Geoff Morrell, tried Monday to tamp down speculation that the Pentagon chief was close to calling it quits.

"Bob Gates has proven to be a miserable failure at retirement," Morrell said, referring to how President George W. Bush persuaded Gates, 66, to return to public service as defense secretary in December 2006. "It remains to be seen whether his sense of responsibility trumps his desires as in the past."

Gates has shown no sign of scaling back his ambitions for the department in recent months. Last week, he announced he would shut a major military command, part of a broader campaign to cut overhead and personnel costs to free up $100 billion for weapons systems and other purposes in the next five years.

"This is a guy who just bit off a huge bite," Morrell said. "This is a guy musing about when it makes sense for him to retire. This is not a guy announcing his retirement."

The defense secretary also faces a spate of major decisions in 2011. Several major military positions, including the top Army job and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are slated to get replacements. It's likely that Gates would want to play a role in advising Obama on who should fill those jobs instead of leaving it to a new replacement. There will also be a major decision next summer on Afghan troop levels.

A former director of the CIA and president of Texas A&M University, Gates had previously committed to Obama that he would stay at least until the end of 2010. So his remarks to FP, made in July, were not a departure.

At the same time, Gates has been dropping hints that he could stick around even longer. At a press conference Aug. 9, reporters pressed the secretary on his plans. "As far as I'm concerned, all I will say is that I'm going to be here longer than either I or others thought," he said.

Gates has long cultivated an inscrutable mystique about his intentions, calling to mind lessons learned during his previous career as a Kremlinologist at the CIA and National Security Council. On one hand, he doesn't want Pentagon bureaucrats to think his departure is imminent, which could encourage them to resist policy changes that they oppose. On the other, he knows that it's easier to succeed and survive in Washington if the perception is that you are serving out of a sense of public obligation instead of personal ambition.

When he makes public appearances across the country, Gates routinely tells the same old jokes that make fun of the insular culture of Washington and tries to sound like he couldn't wait to get out of town.

"It's a pleasure to be with you in San Francisco, but then I have to confess, it's a pleasure to be anywhere but Washington, D.C. -- a place where so many people are lost in thought because it's such unfamiliar territory," he told the Marines' Memorial Association on Thursday. "Where people say, 'I'll double cross that bridge when I get to it.' The only place in the world you can see a prominent person walking down Lover's Lane holding his own hand."

This is a man, of course, whose official bio notes has served under eight different presidents, including a 27-year career at the CIA and nearly four years -- and counting -- as defense secretary.

By Craig Whitlock and Greg Jaffe  | August 16, 2010; 1:05 PM ET
 
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Comments


Stay on board, Mr. Secretary. I realize that you have one of the most difficult and thankless jobs in the administration but, whether you like it or not, you are the man for the job.


Posted by: mortified469 | August 16, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Just a couple hours ago there was an article title saying he would be out in 2011 ...

what's with the tampering of titles WaPo??

Get a call from our elected officials? Gates himself?

Posted by: vmidurk | August 16, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I do hope not! That he is retiring. The country needs him, especially now. He is one of the few good men in Washington. A person beyond politics a true American that we can trust.

Posted by: likovid | August 16, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I know I speak for many DoD and military personnel when I say I sure hope Secretary Gates does not resign. In my 30 years working in the Washington DC area, I am certain I have not seen a government official who is view with more respect from all people - liberals, conservatives, military, men, women, ... I could go on forever. The only exception are some Senators and Congressmen who see Secretary Gates good ideas as a threat to their political power base.

Posted by: mnbvcx | August 16, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I do hope not! That he is retiring. The country needs him, especially now. He is one of the few good men in Washington. A person beyond politics a true American that we can trust.

Posted by: likovid

A person one could trust? Trust with what? There isn't a person in the United States that can be trusted to do the right thing.

Posted by: mtravali | August 16, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Gates is a GOOD man........ pragmatic and thoughtful.

Hopefully he will work for Mitt Romney

...... Mitt Romney/ Bob Gates ....2012...."the pragmatic ticket"

Posted by: allenridge | August 16, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

He’s was a Republican operative. He and others from Obama’s group of token, conservative white men, that he likes to parade out on stage, are going to start jumping ship (now that their job is done).

Obama is a fool and I would be too if I ever voted for him again. I believed he intended to do most of the things he said during his campaign – I was wrong. But I can fix that in later this year and in 2012.

Posted by: question-guy | August 16, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

A person one could trust? Trust with what? There isn't a person in the United States that can be trusted to do the right thing.

Posted by: mtravali | August 16, 2010 1:43 PM

And you can F right off, mtravali.

Posted by: BillStoner | August 16, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Whether I agree with him all the time or not, I believe Secretary Gates to be the best leader of the Department of Defense this country has had in a long, long time, and certainly hope he can stay with it/us for a while longer...

Posted by: jujones1 | August 16, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

The country is lucky to have him. Appreciate his service.

Posted by: tslats | August 16, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

This man has proven a friend to our men and women in both wars, speeding much needed equipment to them through the Pentagon procurement bureaucracy. He has tempered the Liberal leanings in the Administration when it comes to defense cuts and nuclear disarmament,confounded his adversaries in the Congress, and has cultivated a strong relationship with State. I hope he stays on as long as he can.

Posted by: moebius22 | August 16, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Yes I agree - America is very lucky to have him.. Thank You Sec. Gates.. We need him in office..

Posted by: genbarlow | August 16, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Nowhere to be found in all the talk of government spending; Defense. Now over $700 billion per year. No problem?

Lift up the rock to find more slush funds, overspending and fraud, than even in Medicare...

- Balkingpoints / www

Posted by: RField7 | August 16, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Gates is a good man, and I hope he doesn't retire. He is also an honest man, so why don't you take his word about retirement?

Posted by: DWSouthern | August 16, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Gates is the ONLY adult in the White House.

...And I'm not kidding!


Posted by: Jerzy | August 16, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

"The only place in the world you can see a prominent person walking down Lover's Lane holding his own hand."

He shouldn't be so disrespectful of his boss.

I think he will retire because Afghanistan is turning into a huge quagmire with no way out. The far left is going to be out after Obama with VERY SHARP KNIVES after November. Why would any sane man take the coming death of a thousand cuts for someone like Obama?

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | August 16, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Gates has been a real trooper and is an honorable man. Hillary would make a great replacement for him at Defense. She gets it and the generals respect her.

Posted by: tlc20011 | August 16, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Gee I hate to see him go. Frankly Obama has no clue what he is doing and will certainly pick a radical like all the others who has no clue what to do. We just do not feel safe under this inept administration. This is really frightening.

Posted by: greatgran1 | August 16, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Say it ain't so. Don't tell me he's pulling a Brett Farve on us.

Posted by: miked_d | August 16, 2010 10:21 PM | Report abuse

Look, there was a time when Greenspan was viewed as being indispensable to the American economy and we all know how true that turned out to be.
Not learning from that lesson, the American media has proceeded to build up new "heroes" who are going to bail us out of all of our other (self-inflicted) disasters. So let me give you guys the storyline in advance:
Next to fall will be Petraeus, the "genius of the surge" whose reputation will melt down faster than a JetBlue steward as Iraq returns to chaos and as Afghanistan, well as Afghanistan stays in chaos.
Finally it will be Gates. Now Gates may be a good bureaucrat, but even the greatest organizational geniuses in history can't make up for fundamentally flawed policies. Ask Bob McNamara about that.
I understand newspapers need human faces to make "stories" out of abstract ideas like policy. It is also satisfying to build up heroes so they can be torn down again and built up again. But really, spare us the childish fairy tales about some genius middle-aged white guy who is going to save us all. It is time to be adults and look at the foolish direction of our policies.

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Posted by: strade21 | August 17, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

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