We need more revolutionaries like Gates

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By Steve Fox

When George W. Bush replaced Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense with Robert Gates in 2006, I was just glad that the man who didn’t fire anybody after the Abu Ghraib and Blackwater scandals was gone.

But after three years of watching Gates operate in the bizarre world of the military-industrial complex, he’s become my latest government hero. We need more radicals like him.

Gates has put armor on the vehicles our men and women are driving around Iraq and Afghanistan now, instead of on weapons systems for future wars that may or may not happen. 

He’s cut weapons systems not useful in the wars we’ve been fighting since 2001, even though Congress and aerospace lobbyists scream that the far-flung procurement network brings precious jobs to many states, including New Mexico.

It’s not about jobs, Gates argues. It’s about the Marines and Army people being shot at right now.

And Gates has changed the game of Pentagon future weapons systems funding.  “If you lobby for the F-22 Raptor,” he told the CEO of Lockheed Martin, who makes the Raptor, “I’ll cut your other contracts.”

The Raptors cost $250 million apiece. They’re great in dogfights with other superpowers, but useless in wars with insurgents and terrorists.

Our insight into Gates’s skills in operating in the executive branch has been helped considerably by two magazine feature articles about him in recent months.

In October 2009, Noah Shachtman profiled Gates in a five-page article in Wired. Gates was on the cover of Time in February 2010. Both articles quoted many people who have observed Gates from the branches of the military, Department of Defense, State Department and the White House.

Two months after Gates took over for Rumsfeld, The Washington Post revealed that Walter Reed Army Medical Center housed wounded soldiers in moldy rooms infested with cockroaches and mice.

Gates fired the general in charge of Walter Reed, then the Secretary of the Army and the Army’s Surgeon General.

In late 2008 during a visit to Afghanistan, Gates saw stupid rules and turf barriers keeping wounded soldiers from being helicopter-evacuated within the first “golden hour” when their recovery was critical. Gates saw Air Force helicopters sitting idle while Army helicopters were stretched thin and arriving late to pick up wounded Americans.

 “Our mission is to recover downed airplanes,” (something that hadn’t happened in years) explained the USAF commander at Bagram base. Gates ordered USAF’s mission changed to med-evac any soldier from any service unit who needed attention.

The Air Force, despite having been at war for over six years, had fewer than a dozen Predator drone patrols in orbit over Iraq and Afghanistan. The Air Force thought of itself, Shachter wrote in Wired, “as the high-tech deterrent against an apocalyptic encounter with a superpower.”

Gates sent a deputy to the USAF base where the drones were headquartered in Nevada. The Secretary of Defense’s passion to fight the war we’re in now with the best tools we have drove him to triple the routes flown by the vastly cheaper drones operated by noncommissioned officers, canceled the Air Force’s request for dozens of F-22 Raptors, and fired Air Force Chief of Staff Mike Moseley and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne.

It wasn’t just the drones. Air Force planes had violated strict rules in recent months by carrying six nuclear warheads across the United States on a B-52 and accidentally shipping four fuses used in nuclear missiles to Taiwan.

What most endears Gates to me is his statement about West Point grads in Time: “I consider every one of them as if they were my own sons and daughters. I feel a very personal sense of responsibility for each and every one of them.”      


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