From John Barry and Tara McKelvey, Newsweek: Aboard the Pentagon jet on his last foreign trip as secretary of defense, Robert Gates takes a moment to peer across the American horizon—and the view is dire: the U.S. is in danger of losing its supremacy on the global stage, he says.
“I’ve spent my entire adult life with the United States as a superpower, and one that had no compunction about spending what it took to sustain that position,” he tells NEWSWEEK, seated in a windowless conference room aboard the Boeing E-4B. “It didn’t have to look over its shoulder because our economy was so strong. This is a different time.”
“To tell you the truth, that’s one of the many reasons it’s time for me to retire, because frankly I can’t imagine being part of a nation, part of a government … that’s being forced to dramatically scale back our engagement with the rest of the world.”
Such a statement—rather astonishing for the leader of the world’s preeminent fighting force—may open the administration to charges of not believing in American exceptionalism, an opening the GOP is already trying to exploit. But these days Gates is less worried about political crossfire and more focused on the legacy of his own tenure, which bridged the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
He is determined to define his own legacy as Pentagon boss, and eager to push back against one of the more vocal criticisms of his tenure: the belief among many liberals and some con-servative budget hawks that in a time of deep indebtedness, he hasn’t been willing to chop enough of a defense budget bloated by a decade of war.
Don’t expect him to apologize. In Gates’s mind, it’s other political leaders with less experience who are confused.