Giving Thanks for Robert Gates

President–elect Obama demonstrated excellent judgment in choosing my former Fed colleague, Tim Geithner, as his Treasury Secretary. Tim is not only highly qualified for the job, but he also brings needed continuity in dealing with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

My Thanksgiving would be complete if Mr. Obama demonstrates similar wisdom by asking Robert Gates to remain Defense Secretary through the end game in Iraq. He too is ideally qualified, doing an excellent job, and appears to be well along the way to peace with honor, which I define as victory.

During my two years as Chancellor of the Texas A&M University System (November 2004-November 2006), Bob Gates was President of its flagship university, Texas A&M. Bob came to A&M after retiring as Director of the  Central Intelligence Agency, the only Director to have worked his way up through the ranks. In the C.I.A., He served his country under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

At Texas A&M, Bob was devoted to the students. He turned down more than one high-level government job to stay with his kids. He didn't seek the job of Defense Secretary, and its offer caused him much anguish. But, bottom line, Bob Gates is a patriot, and a patriot does what he has to do when his country needs him, especially in wartime. So, off he went with tears in his eyes, leaving behind the university and the kids he loved.

Incidentally, to him, he also had to give up substantial speaking fees and board memberships-he had recently been made Chairman of one of those boards, Fidelity Investments. But the regrets were only for the Aggies.

I've joked that dealing with university faculty was good training for dealing with generals. It was a true joke. I've watched Bob as he methodically thought out plans of action and then had the patience to achieve the necessary buy-in from the stakeholders. He readily allowed the credit for his ideas to be hijacked by others as their own. The goal was always more important than the credit.

They say that university politics is so vicious because the stakes are so low. While university politics swirled around him, he never played that game. I learned not to listen to rumors or innuendo concerning Bob, nor to play the lets-you-and-him-fight game, because he always played it straight.

During a search for a new university president, a wise member of our search committee said that the ideal candidate wouldn't be seeking the job. The ideal candidate is happily doing a good job somewhere else, and we'll have to find and persuade him to come.  

That was how Bob was drafted back into service. He wasn't looking. That may also be true now if the President-elect asks him to stay a while longer. If so, that's just one more reason he's the man for the job.

Let's give thanks this Thanksgiving for patriots like Bob Gates.

Comments (3)

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  1. Rick Wright says:

    BBC reports have given you an early Thanksgiving gift.

  2. JustOne says:

    Bob,
    As a grad of TAMU (MS Physics, 1970), I sense your devotion to the university and its students in your comments on Gates. Thanks for sharing your heart and wisdom. I can only hope your voice will be heard … but it is a noisy world.

    P.S.: I found your blog due to your appearance with Mike Norman on BizRadio in Texas. Keep up the good work of applying your wisdom to the current economic situation … even if Mike is a New Yorker. It is needed.