WASHINGTON (CNN) – Defense Secretary Robert Gates praised President Ronald Reagan on Tuesday for being "circumspect" about putting American credibility or troops at risk in the absence of "a clear mission or strong odds of success."
Gates said Reagan "understood that erasing the impression of U.S. political and military weakness would ultimately reap diplomatic rewards and strategic breakthroughs."
Reagan's "willingness to use American power was a lesson that others would learn as well," Gates said at a Library of Congress event honoring Reagan's contribution to the fall of the Berlin Wall. "But President Reagan was circumspect about putting or keeping America's troops and America's credibility at risk without a clear mission or strong odds of success."
He wisely avoided a "direct and potentially catastrophic military conflict with the U.S.S.R.," Gates said. Instead, the president "expanded the containment playbook far beyond Europe and took the fight to the enemy worldwide. From Afghanistan to Cambodia, Nicaragua, Angola, Ethiopia and elsewhere, Soviet surrogates soon faced their own lethal insurgencies."
Regarding current U.S. military efforts, White House officials have suggested that President Barack Obama might announce a decision on U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan shortly before or after Thanksgiving.
Obama is to leave Thursday for Asia, with stops in Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea. He is to return on November 20.
On Tuesday, Obama and Gates attended a memorial service for victims of last week's Fort Hood shootings.
– CNN Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry contributed to this report.