December 11th, 2008
08:22 AM ET
10 years ago

Balancing act: Defense Secretary to bridge two administrations

Gates has the tough task of bridging two administrations.

Gates has the tough task of bridging two administrations.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates is learning that becoming the first defense secretary to bridge two administrations can lead to some awkward moments.

Last week, President-elect Obama announced that he would keep Gates on to run the Pentagon.

He still answers to President Bush, since, as both President Bush and President-elect Obama have pointed out, "there's only one commander in chief at a time," Gates said. But he is not blind to the fact that his new boss and his transition team have demands too, which leads to "occasional awkwardness."

Asked for an example, Gates said that at times he's had to choose between meeting with the transition team or meeting with members of the current administration.

Apparently the incoming president's staff wins out over outgoing president's staff.

"Let's just say that if I'm faced with a choice between attending a principals meeting on an issue that I think it not particularly hot, and a meeting with the transition folks, I'll opt for the latter," Gates said.

But the current president doesn't have to worry about being ignored.

"I'm not forgetting at all for a second who is the president until noon on January 20th," Gates said. "I haven't missed any meetings with the president, let me put it that way."

Gates has had "several telephone calls" with the president-elect to talk about personnel to replace the outgoing political appointees, he told reporters traveling with him on a trip overseas.

"We really haven't sat down yet for a thorough discussion of specific foreign policy issues, national security issues," Gates told the traveling reporters, according to a transcript.

He's also met with Vice President-elect Joe Biden, who was in town Monday to meet with the defense secretary and the incoming nominee for Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Filed under: Robert Gates
soundoff (92 Responses)
  1. w.l. jones

    Our Generals been bridges Administration for two hundred years?

    December 11, 2008 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  2. indepdendentvoter

    Let me say this as tax payer and voter....the Bush administration better cooperate with Obama's team. This means pentagon, this means CIA and NASA. If you do not heads will roll. Most of us US Citizens are out of work this Christmas. SO WE HAVE THE TIME AND ENERGY to keep an tight eye on you until Jan 09. WE have had it. GET IT DONE and do what is asked of you or you will all sit in jail for obstruction with the Chicago Gov and the Alaska Senator. PERIOD. No excuse. WE ARE WATCHING.

    December 11, 2008 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  3. Baze

    I like Robert Gates a lot! We'll need him if we're to achieve victory in Afghanistan, and I think he and Obama share a lot of ideas on the best road to achieve that victory. Go Gates, Go Obama!

    December 11, 2008 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  4. Baze

    Bush's Men:

    You're a moron. Fitzgerald is probably going to get tossed, Powell was already tossed, and out of all the cabinet positions you've only mentioned three. Good job.

    December 11, 2008 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  5. Scott NYC Independent

    There is no need to wonder what VP Biden's role will be any longer. While in Washington he called a meeting with the Sec. of Defense and Sec. of State – obviously he is the hands on manager. I might add thoroughly qualified to be such.

    December 11, 2008 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  6. Larry in Houston, Texas

    The OBAMA Team needs to get rid of him, period.......
    He wants to stay with the BUSH plan, and is to stay in IRAQ
    for who knows ???
    It's bad for our economy, as long as we stay in and spend BILLIONS
    every Month....We will be in the worst economic shape ever.....
    In all the wars we have ever been in, we have NEVER stayed in a
    War THIS LONG !! This is hurting us, as a country !!!

    Houston Texas

    December 11, 2008 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  7. Lynn

    Bush's Men:Gates, Powell and Fitzgerald are not "Bush's" men...they are Americans who have served and will continue to serve this country well!

    The change as PE obama said throughout the primaries and the election: 'not blue Americans, or read Americans but all Americans".

    Too bad you can't recognize "change" when you see it and want to continue the same old partisan divide.

    December 11, 2008 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  8. truth hurts

    just do what you are getting paid to do, i think if we would stop trying to sensationalize every foul thing that comes up, our country would be alot better off.

    December 11, 2008 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  9. proudliberal-independent

    he needs to go away with bush!

    December 11, 2008 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  10. Drone

    Almost forgot...

    PUMA where you at?
    PUMA where you at?
    PUMA where you at?
    PUMA where you at?

    He (Obama) wont/cant win without US!! I dont hear you talking!!!
    Where you at!

    Thats right, SHUT UP and just let it happen... LOSERS.

    December 11, 2008 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  11. Michael watching from Canada

    I am sure that the Defense Secretary will do what is best for the American people regardless of who is President. I want to thank Gates for publicly stating his thanks to our Canadian troops who have been fighting in Afghanistan before 9/11.

    Oh, and it is certainly amusing to read these CNN posts where so many are prejudging Obama before he takes just goes to show that there are many who do not want their new President to just proves that party comes before country.

    December 11, 2008 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  12. Cynt

    Ernie, filp in NC and Bush man

    why do you loser's get out here and spread your hate. Gates knows he needs to be a Obama beck and call, after all Bush is leaving and the new era is Obama. Get over it clowns personally I don't trust Gates and I will be glad when his extended stay is over.

    December 11, 2008 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  13. Lawrence

    Actually dealing with the wars is not complicated. Having to deal with two leaders at the same time over said wars, now that's complicated.

    I am glad that he is staying put for now. Hopefully he'll be there throughout his first term.

    December 11, 2008 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  14. Atlanta in da hood

    I'm sure Mr. Gates is wondering when the Don't Ask, Don't Tell issue will come up. He's probably worried that he will have to support gays in the military and be the one who implements the policy change.

    This time it may not be a big deal. We all know that gays serve in the military, and many do openly. I should know, I am retired from the Army. However, I don't think it should be the first thing Obama does, especially when we are dealing with Iraq & Afghanistan. He should establish himself with those issues and then address the Don't Ask policy some time later.

    December 11, 2008 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  15. Drone

    PUMA "He cant win without the votes of us!"
    PUMA "Good luck winning without the 18million votes!"

    We won... what now? Suckers....

    December 11, 2008 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  16. An Independent for Obama

    Boy, McCain's losers are still harping aren't they? Good job Mr. Gates. Keep meeting with your future boss and forget about meeting with the current administration. They were uninformed incompetents before you were tapped for duty and it's not your fault. President Obama and Vice President Biden will listen to you and work with you.

    December 11, 2008 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  17. karen-phoenix

    Hard job but I've a feeling for a long time Gates wants more of what Obama has in mind than what Bush/McCain wanted–NO MORE WARS!!

    December 11, 2008 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  18. Steve, Madison WI

    He should listen to what Bush's staff tells him and then do the opposite – or just listen to Obama – either way he will probably end up doing the right thing (vs. the blunders of the last eight years!)

    December 11, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  19. Richard

    He was a very good pick by George Bush and President elect Obama.
    i would much rather have Bush stay in office.

    December 11, 2008 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  20. Greg Pottstown, Pa.

    Bruce WExler

    Thanks, I was thinking the same thing.

    December 11, 2008 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  21. M J

    People, change does not mean taking away from the experience and talents in certain individuals. Change means guiding those talents to the benefit of the team. Change does not mean taking in a bunch of unfamiliar faces who does not have a clue on how to play the game. Take any atheletic team out there. When a team has had a loosing season, do the cut or trade all players on the team. No! They make trades in order to balance the chemistry of the team to produce a winning season. That is why I like what Obama is doing. Like it or not he ran the best campaign in modern history, the man is a winner.

    December 11, 2008 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  22. Brian

    Where are the Republicans praising Obama for keeping Gates on and admitting that although he's not a Democrat, he's a good leader.

    Hmm... For all you doubters out there, I like to call sore losers...

    Do you notice one big difference from bushys cabinet?

    Obama: Selecting Intelligence and Respect
    Bush: Selected Powerful Friendlies

    P.S. The crap that bush is pulling trying to push through all this last minute rules is a disgrace. As if he hasn't screwed it up enough, hasn't any told him he doesn't have to try to make it worse. Absolute disgrace to this country and everything I was tought it should be.

    The best thing the bush administration can do now is... NOTHING!!!

    December 11, 2008 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  23. Nick

    steve, not to get all "religious", but that's saying the Bush is Gates' master.

    December 11, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  24. rich

    Some more advise to Gates: When prioritizing with whom to meet, just remember who got this country into the mess it is in right now, and who has a vision to get us out.

    December 11, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  25. obama-mama

    Bush is still in command at this time so Gates have no other choice but to give him his undivided attention. Gates probably cannot wait until he is out of office.

    December 11, 2008 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
1 2 3 4