9. Robert Gates
for transforming U.S. military might for the 21st century.
Defense secretary | Washington
Robert Gates isn't the first strategist to dwell on the need for the U.S. military to adapt to fight the low-intensity conflicts of the present and future -- he's just the most successful. While his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, talked about trimming the military's expensive pet projects, Gates actually delivered: The career intelligence officer has so far convinced the military brass and Congress to cut 31 programs, saving an estimated $330 billion. At the same time, Gates, a lifelong Republican, has become a close advisor to President Barack Obama and enlisted him in a project he defines with breathtaking ambition: reimagining how American power will be wielded in the 21st century. With the United States alone still accounting for an astonishing 44 percent of the world's military expenditures while facing a new age of austerity, it's not just a big idea; it's an urgent necessity.
But it's hardly Gates's sole brief. Few defense secretaries have had the misfortune of presiding over two failing wars at once, but Gates has managed Iraq and Afghanistan with low-key aplomb even as he has seen not one but two successive Afghan commanders fired. When Obama sat down last fall to make the biggest decision of his presidency -- whether to throw tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops into the deteriorating Afghan war -- Gates, who had helped fund the anti-Soviet jihad as a top CIA official in the 1980s, emerged as a center of gravity, by all accounts, in the ensuing debate. Having seen one Vietnam unfold, he's not anxious to experience another one.
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