Wars teach defense boss new caution
(The New York Times) -- by THOM SHANKER and ELISABETH BUMILLER --
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as he prepares to leave government service for the second time, said Friday the human costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had made him far more wary about unleashing the might of the U.S. armed forces.
"When I took this job, the United States was fighting two very difficult, very costly wars," Gates said in an interview. "And it has seemed to me: Let's get this business wrapped up before we go looking for more opportunities.
"If we were about to be attacked or had been attacked or something happened that threatened a vital U.S. national interest, I would be the first in line to say, 'Let's go.' I will always be an advocate in terms of wars of necessity. I am just much more cautious on wars of choice."
Most recently, he expressed major reservations about U.S. intervention in Libya.
In December 2006, Gates was brought on by President George W. Bush to fix Iraq, and he was kept on by President Obama to solve Afghanistan. Even as a trained historian, he said, he has learned most clearly during the past 4 1/2 years that wars "have taken longer and been more costly in lives and treasure" than anticipated.
Gates came to the Pentagon job from the presidency of Texas A&M University. He initially retired from government service in 1993 after a 27-year career at the CIA, where he became the first entry-level employee to rise to the position of director of the spy agency.
As Gates gets ready to return to private life at the end of the month, the futures of Afghanistan and Iraq seem far from certain.
He was asked to confirm reports of policy duels during the two years before Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney left office, a time in which Gates was said to have been successful in altering policies or blocking missions that might have escalated into another conflict.
"The only thing I guess I would say to that is: I hope I've prevented us from doing some dumb things over the past four and a half years — or maybe dumb is not the right word, but things that were not actually in our interest," Gates said.
Pressed for details, he smiled and said, "I will in my book."
Some of the defense secretary's confidants, however, confirmed Gates prevented provocative, adventurist policies against Iran, in particular, that might have spun into war.
"He'll be remembered for making us aware of the danger of over-reliance on military intervention as an instrument of American foreign policy," said former Sen. David Boren, who, during his tenure as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, developed a rapport with Gates when he was CIA director in the early 1990s.
"I also think that he prevented further adventures, particularly in our relationship with countries like Iran, that could have turned into military intervention had he not become secretary of defense," said Boren, now president of the University of Oklahoma...MORE...LINK