Position:Secretary of Defense
The Secretary of Defense is the president's chief adviser on military and defense issues, and is a member of their cabinet. They are responsible for the creation and execution of defense policy.
Relevant Professional Background:Robert Gates, the current Secretary of Defense under President Bush, spent most of his career in intelligence related roles. He joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1966 and fulfilled intelligence tasks after being drafted into the military in 1967. After his service in the Air Force, he returned to the CIA, where he eventually rose the position of director. His proximity to the Iran/ Contra affair, however, would eventually prohibit him from rising even further in intelligence policy roles. Gates has held various academic positions and became the president of Texs A&M University in 2002. In 2006, he accepted the position of Secretary of Defense and replaced Secretary Rumsfeld. He was 65 years old at the time of his selection by Obama.
Positions: In his role as Secretary of Defense, Gates maintains the view of the Bush administration that the primary military challenge of our time is a global war on terror, although in his terms it is "in grim reality, a prolonged, worldwide irregular campaign -- a struggle between the forces of violent extremism and those of moderation" (Gates, Foreign Affairs, Jan/ Feb 2009). Gates has become known, however, for his view that this campaign should be fought in ways that are not typically thought of as military, for example, through economic aid, and by strengthening local governing capacity.
Goals: Gates' goals include:
- Continuing to develop the counterinsurgency capabilities of the U.S. military. Gates firmly believes that even conventional threats (those that come from other sovereign states) will present themselves as irregular threats in the future;
- Developing a military culture through institutional changes in education and training that foster forces that can fight an irregular war.
The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan top the list of challenges for Gates. Although the recently ratified Status of Forces Agreement between Iraq and the United States calls for the withdrawal of all forces by 2011, the United States will have a military presence (fulfilled by active military and military contractors) far into the future. The process of shaping a long term plan that is acceptable to Iraq and the United States will undoubtedly be difficult, and there will inevitably be unforeseeable tests of the United States, as it seeks a long term presence in the region.
Afghanistan poses an enormous challenge to the United States. As in Iraq before it, neither the cultural or political landscape of the area are well understood. Although the current strategy includes raising troop levels in Afghanistan, there is significant debate over its merits.
In Washington, Gates may face taxing relationships with civilian departments. Although he has himself explained the need to strengthen the much depleted State Department and foreign aid programs, he sees these needs through the lens of military needs. From that perspective, civilian goals must support and be subordinate to the primary goal of fighting a worldwide war against violent extremists. Whether other key personalities in an Obama administration will see that war as the primary organizing principle for government activities remains in question.