DALLAS (Covering Katy News) — Robert Gates served as secretary of defense for President George W. Bush and then made history when he was asked to stay on as Secretary of Defense when President Barack Obama was elected.
On November 8, 2006, after the 2006 midterm election, Bush announced his intent to nominate Gates to succeed the resigning Donald Rumsfeld as U.S. Secretary of Defense. While Gates was no stranger to Washington, he also served as president of Texas A&M University prior to being confirmed as Secretary of Defense.
Gates recently shared details about the transition from serving President George W. Bush to President Obama, what he learned about leadership serving under eight presidents, and how his many governmental roles impacted his children in the newest episode of the Bush Center’s podcast, The Strategist.
He talked about the pressures on the family when serving in a high profile position.
“It’s very difficult at controversial times when you’ve got a camera crew camped out at the end of your driveway and your kids are trying to get to school and so on, it has an impact.”
But, Gates said not all was negative in his time at the Pentagon or while serving as Director of the CIA.
“There are some fun aspects of it. My son was a boy scout when I was Director of the CIA and his troop had a father/son campout over on the eastern shore of Maryland and I went,” Gates recalled. “I think that the wilderness adventure aspect of it, the shine was taken off of that by two very large black trucks with satellite dishes and CIA security all around the campsite. But what made the security guys especially nervous was on Sunday morning the program was teaching these 12 and 13 and 14-year-olds how to shoot skeet. And it’s just what the security guys wanted, a bunch of kids with shotguns around the Director of the CIA.”
Gages Served under eight Presidents in many different capacities so he’s seen how they operate when the public is not looking.
“[The presidents] wanted around them the smartest people they could find. They had a lot of self-confidence, but it wasn’t the kind of chest-beating self-confidence that we see too much of today in a variety of circles,” Gates said.
“I think they all had in common the willingness to listen, and I would say that in virtually every case they showed loyalty down. They expected loyalty up, but they also demonstrated loyalty down. And I think that was very important. I think both of the Presidents Bush were especially strong in that arena.”
And he pointed out the hypocrisy of congressional hearings.
“I go to my first hearing after Obama becomes president and all the sudden it’s the Republicans who are trashing me and the Democrats are my best friends lobbing softballs and so on. Actually, about halfway through the hearing I kind of called a time out and I said, ‘You guys realize what’s happened here? I mean, to the Republicans, you used to be my friends. And the Democrats, you used to be my adversaries. And now you’ve flipped, but I’m the same guy and I haven’t changed my views on anything. Don’t you think that’s a little weird?’ And at least I got a good laugh out of it.”
Gates recalled that he learned a lot about leadership during his time in Washington.
“When I was Director of Central Intelligence and then when I was Secretary of Defense, if I had a serious disagreement with the president, I always tried to express that in private so that we could actually have a very candid conversation and nobody was posturing for anybody else.”
“I certainly was not afraid to engage in the Situation Room when we were debating policies in terms of arguing from the standpoint of the Department of Defense.”
The Strategerist is a podcast highlighting the American spirit of leadership, compassion, and ingenuity through entertaining and thought-provoking conversations. To learn more about The Strategerist and to hear Gates’ episode visit www.bushcenter.org/strategerist. The Strategerist is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play.
About the George W. Bush Institute
Housed within the George W. Bush Presidential Center, the George W. Bush Institute is an action-oriented, nonpartisan policy organization with the mission of developing leaders, advancing policy, and taking action to solve today’s most pressing challenges. Through three Impact Centers – Domestic Excellence, Global Leadership, and an Engagement Agenda – the Bush Institute delivers measurable results that save and improve lives. To learn more, visit www.BushCenter.org.