Defense secretary Gates says he would like to leave next year

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

For a man who came into his post reluctantly and as a purported short-timer, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is turning into more and more of a fixture at the Pentagon.

In an interview with that was published Monday, Gates indicated once again that his tenure will come to an end in the near term, saying he'd like to step down in 2011.

"I think that it would be a mistake to wait until January 2012," he said, noting that he doesn't want to force President Obama to find a successor in the spring of a presidential election year.

But don't hold your breath that Gates will permanently move back to his home in Washington state anytime soon. His press secretary, Geoff Morrell, tried Monday to tamp down speculation that the Pentagon chief is close to calling it quits.

"Bob Gates has proven to be a miserable failure at retirement," Morrell said, referring to how President George W. Bush persuaded Gates, 66, to return to public service as defense secretary in December 2006. "It remains to be seen whether his sense of responsibility trumps his desires, as in the past."

Gates has shown no sign of scaling back his ambitions for the department in recent months. Last week, he announced he will shut a major military command, part of a broader campaign to cut overhead and personnel costs to free up $100 billion for weapons systems and other purposes in the next five years.

The defense secretary also faces a spate of major decisions in 2011. Several major military positions, including the top Army job and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are slated to get replacements. Gates will probably want to play a role in advising Obama on who should fill those jobs instead of leaving it to a new replacement. There will also be a major decision next summer on Afghan troop levels.

A former director of the CIA and president of Texas A&M University, Gates previously committed to Obama that he would stay at least until the end of 2010. So his remarks to FP, made in July, were not a departure.

At the same time, Gates has been dropping hints that he could stick around even longer. At a news conference Aug. 9, reporters pressed the secretary on his plans.

"As far as I'm concerned, all I will say is that I'm going to be here longer than either I or others thought," he said.

Staff writer Greg Jaffe contributed to this report.

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