Robert Gates for President

There is an old saying, “You can’t be all things to all people.” Yet, with every election we witness candidates attempting exactly that. Fearful of losing a single vote, candidates tell us what they think will get our vote. They find it difficult to defend their own convictions. I suppose it might be fair to ask, who can stand up to the vicious polarization that drives this country today? Well, there is one man who lives my dream of a real leader. He is a man who challenges others by saying, “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

He is Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.

Gates appeared on 60 Minutes this past Sunday and spoke candidly about the wars he is charged with leading. He proudly notes that he pulls no punches.

He says the department of defense “is organized to plan for war but not to fight a war.” He points to the humvees that became death traps for our soldiers in Iraq. In Afghanistan, he notes, the medical bureaucracy decided that two hours was enough time to pick up a wounded soldier. Gates didn’t think so, and now it’s 40 minutes or less. “When kids’ lives are at stake, you’re all in,” said Gates.

Is there fat in the Pentagon spending? “The Pentagon budget almost doubled during the last decade but our capabilities didn’t particularly expand. A lot of the money went into the infrastructure and overhead and, frankly, a culture that had an open checkbook. So that’s what we had to change.”

Speaking to a class at West Point this year, Secretary Gates said, “In my opinion, any future Secretary of Defense who advises the president to send a big American land army into Asia, the Mid-East or Africa, should have his head examined, as General MacArthur so delicately put it. Things go wrong and things don’t develop as you anticipate and young men and women die.”

And when he speaks of the “young men and women” he thinks of them as his own sons and daughters.

“I’m the guy who sends them into war. I’m the guy who sends the condolence letters. I’m the guy who visits them in the hospitals. I swore I would never let any of them become a statistic for me. So, with each condolence letter I write, I get a packet of hometown news accounts of that individual as well as a picture. And I get to read what their coaches and their parents and their brothers and sisters say about them. So I feel I know them. In some ways it makes this job harder. But I want parents, or wives, or spouses to know I care about every single one of them. I’m more cautious now because I see the consequences.”

If only more of our leaders had the intelligence, compassion and courage of Robert Gates.