"Gates Was a Great Secretary of Defense."
Only if we grade on a curve. Bob Gates certainly makes pundits swoon. They appreciate his rhetorical restraint, purposeful demeanor, and evident distaste for the early zealotry of George W. Bush's administration. But his main asset, in their eyes, has always been that he's not Donald Rumsfeld, who seemed to relish antagonizing the media and had grown increasingly detached from the realities of the war in Iraq by the end of his tenure.
When Gates answered a question at his 2006 confirmation hearing about whether the United States was winning in Iraq with a curt "no, sir," pundits were head over heels. Schoolgirl mash notes masquerading as blog entries called him "the best defense secretary we've ever had" and the author of "one of the bravest defense budgets ever."
Much of that commentary praised Gates's management prowess, but failed to assess the objectives it served. Gates has proved a competent executor and skilled promoter of bad policies: the continuation of the Iraq war, the expansion of the one in Afghanistan, the deification of counterinsurgency warfare, and the continued growth of the Pentagon's bloated budget in service of an excess of global commitments. Gates was an able defender of the status quo, but at a time when U.S. foreign and military policies desperately needed an overhaul, he was not up to the task.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images