A Year in Command for Robert Gates Secretary of Defense Robert Gates took control of the Pentagon a year go. Retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, a lecturer at West Point and a Congressional Medal of Honor winner for his heroism during the Vietnam War, takes stock of Gates' performance.
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A Year in Command for Robert Gates

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A Year in Command for Robert Gates

A Year in Command for Robert Gates

A Year in Command for Robert Gates

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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates took control of the Pentagon a year go. Retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, a lecturer at West Point and a Congressional Medal of Honor winner for his heroism during the Vietnam War, takes stock of Gates' performance.

ALISON STEWART, Host:

Hey, breaking news, right? It's true - Time magazine has named their Person of the Year. We talked about it yesterday. They had named Russian President Vladimir Putin as Person of the Year.

RACHEL MARTIN, Host:

Just crossed the wires.

STEWART: The gentleman to my left - feeling pretty good about that, aren't you?

BILL WOLFF: Yeah. Yeah, I am. And also about the fact...

STEWART: You called it. Why, Bill?

WOLFF: Well, you also just called me a gentleman, which is one of the nicest things anyone's ever said about me. Why? Because he sort of has returned Russia to its scary prominence. You know, I don't think anybody was particularly afraid of Russia for the last 10 or 15 years. Boris Yeltsin, come on. It's good times. Putin, however, a fairly significant player. He opposes...

MARTIN: He's not going away any time soon.

STEWART: He's not going away.

WOLFF: He's not going away...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WOLFF: ...and also he's taken, you know, tough positions against the United States. He does not view it as some sort of partnership. He views it as an adversarial relationship, and that's the first time in a while. So...

MARTIN: And Russians love him.

WOLFF: And Russians love him.

MARTIN: The economy is good.

STEWART: Yeah.

MARTIN: People like him.

WOLFF: And he put some great shots of himself with his shirt off.

MARTIN: There you go.

STEWART: Fishing in the stream.

MARTIN: Just get half naked.

WOLFF: Exactly.

MARTIN: That'll do it.

STEWART: Interesting choice, Time magazine.

WOLFF: Yup.

STEWART: Now, during Gates' confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee just 369 days ago, Mr. Gates candidly answered a question like this one from Democratic Senator Carl Levin.

CARL LEVIN: Mr. Gates, do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?

ROBERT GATES: No, sir.

STEWART: And to help us to look the year in Gates is Retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, a lecturer at West Point, as well as a Congressional Medal of Honor winner for his heroism during the Vietnam War. Nice to speak with you, colonel.

JACK JACOBS: Well, good to speak with you, too. Good morning.

STEWART: So let's recap what Gates was inheriting from Donald Rumsfeld when he took over as defense secretary a year ago. What were the two most pressing issues on his agenda?

JACOBS: Some things that continue to be a problem, and that's the conflict in southwest Asia, both in Afghanistan and Iraq. Iraq was a problem. It's still a problem, and will continue to be so. The second big problem stems from that, and that is that we have far too forces - too few forces to carry out our worldwide objectives using any military instrument. We've only got about 1.7 million kids in uniform - a lot of them are reservists and National Guardsmen trying to defend a country of 300 million people. And now the ground forces, notably the - definitely the Army, and perhaps even the Marine Corps are visibly broken as a result of our foray into Iraq. He inherited both of those things. And quite frankly, he's worked really hard at trying to fix it, but they're still broken.

STEWART: I'm curious about his style. I felt like we heard from Donald Rumsfeld once a week. There were some press conference or some comment, yet Robert Gates, not nearly as much. Why is that? And what do you think about his management style?

JACOBS: You suggested earlier that he was honest when you played that clip in his confirmation hearing, and he was immediately confirmed. After Rumsfeld - to paraphrase the observation about grand juries, the Senate would have confirmed a ham sandwich.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JACOBS: I mean, they - everybody'd had his fill of Rumsfeld, and anything would be an improvement. Gates is an improvement just by default, but he also has done some things very much better than Rumsfeld did, and we're seeing the results of it.

WOLFF: Colonel Jacobs, this is Bill Wolff. How are you?

JACOBS: Mr. Wolff, good morning.

WOLFF: Good morning to you, sir.

JACOBS: Rumsfeld had an announced, articulated overall strategy, which was he was going to downsize the military, make it more nimble, fight these new modern wars. He was sort of Robert McNamaraesque in that way. He was going to bring all this new thinking, and that was his overarching strategy. Does Gates have an equivalent articulated strategy to do what he's got to do?

WOLFF: He's got to deal with all that. So he's like the kid with a finger in the dike, or the Chinese plate spinners. When you get to the end, you got to go back to the beginning and spin them again. He's in the business of trying to satisfy daily requirements, and it does not have any overarching strategy at work here.

STEWART: We're talking to Retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs about Robert Gates' first year in office as secretary of defense. I know you're very much still plugged in to folks in the military. I'm curious, what is the perception about him among the ranks in the military?

JACOBS: There's another interesting thing that Gates does that Rumsfeld never did, and that is that he's got reasonably acceptable relationships outside the Pentagon, not just in military circles - that is with the Congress. He gets along better with the Congress. He gets along better with the White House than Rumsfeld ever did.

STEWART: So it sounds like the past year was somewhat of an improvement.

JACOBS: Well, you could hardly get any worse.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JACOBS: I mean, the...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, thanks for spending some time with us this morning, and being so frank.

JACOBS: Well...

STEWART: We appreciate it.

JACOBS: ...it's good being with both of you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE HURDY GURDY MAN")

STEWART: What is this song, sir?

WOLFF: I believe that's Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man." You know who picked it?

STEWART: Who?

WOLFF: Moby. He deejayed the show today.

STEWART: Very nice.

WOLFF: It's very nice.

STEWART: So keep on listening for Moby's picks, as well as a story about the FCC and relaxing the rules on media consultation.

WOLFF: Uh-oh. Ominous.

STEWART: Coming up.

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