Every day, it seems, I find another reason to admire Secretary of Defense Robert Gates -- despite the fact that he is disproving my thesis that his position is a "nearly impossible job." Unlike his predecessors, eight of whom were fired or forced to resign, he was kept in place by the new president of the opposition party. He has asserted his authority without provoking a backlash, and he has imposed much-needed accountability by actually firing malperforming subordinates.
Today he deserves praise for speaking tough love and fiscal realism to the Pentagon establishment. In a speech at Abilene, Kansas, he lauded former president and general of the army Dwight Eisenhower for running an administration where "real choices were made, priorities set, and limits enforced."
Gates also acknowledged that the 9/11 attacks "opened a gusher of defense spending that nearly doubled the base budget over the past decade, not counting supplemental appropriations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." But with America now facing "difficult economic circumstances and parlous fiscal condition," he warned, "The gusher has been turned off, and will stay off for a good period of time."
True national security requires more than just defense. Gates is exhibiting the best form of national security professionalism by reminding the military establishment and its advocates that they must practice restraint for the greater good. Political pressures will make this difficult,but no less important.