Hints on Why Bush Chose Robert Gates as the New SecDef


This month Texas Monthly published a cover story on Texas A&M University President Robert Gates, who a few hours ago replaced Donald Rumsfeld as Bush’s Secretary of Defense, making this one of the magazine’s most timely (or worst timed) stories ever, depending on how you look at it. The profile by Paul Burka is full of hints why Bush may have chosen Gates as SecDef, as well as odd gems about the former CIA man.

Who would have known, for example, that Gates protested against the Vietnam war? Burka writes:

He opposed the war, as did most of his CIA friends, and even marched in protest of U.S. activity in Cambodia. “Popular impressions then and now about the CIA—especially as a conservative, Cold War bureaucratic monolith—have always been wrong. … ” (In his book about the Cold War, From the Shadows) he writes of the influence of the counterculture, of experiments with marijuana by supervisors, of anti-Nixon posters and bumper stickers that “festooned CIA office walls.” Nixon comes in for some harsh words. Richard Helms, then the CIA director, told a story about going into the Oval Office just as Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird was leaving. Nixon pointed at Laird and said, “There goes the most devious man in the United States,” to which Gates adds, “Some accolade, considering the source.”

Burka on Gates’ personality:

As you might expect, Bob Gates is not a man who reveals himself. I have been around him three times, once in 2004 and twice for this story. He is one of the most consistent personalities I’ve ever met. He’s all business, a man under total self-control. He doesn’t fidget. He isn’t a backslapper. He doesn’t make small talk. He doesn’t boast; neither does he engage in false modesty. He is a motivator, not a cheerleader. He is always polite. He wears an air of authority as if it were tailored by Brooks Brothers. He answers questions fully but volunteers little. Most of his laughter comes from a finely developed sense of irony. I would back him to the hilt in a no-limit poker game.

Gates was hand-picked four years ago by Bush the Elder to lead Texas A&M, a large, mediocre (ranked 67th ) university in the middle of the Texas sticks, moribund by tradition and an image as a redoubt of hicks and crackers. He set about to change the school: “The old-boy network may not be gone entirely, but it is endangered,” Burka writes. “About four hundred staff positions have been eliminated since Gates became president. ‘I was not brought here,’ [Gates] told me, ‘to be everybody’s friend.'”

What may have led George W. to tap Gates for SecDef, though, is aptitude for brand management. Burka spends most of his time marveling at Gates’ intense public relations push to change A&M’s image:

To accomplish this, Gates has created a new position, chief marketing officer and vice president for communications, whose job will be to oversee what Gates calls the “rebranding of Texas A&M.”. . . Gates is determined to see it through. “There is a huge opportunity cost if we don’t do it,” he said. “We need to significantly improve the public’s knowledge and perception of the university.”. . .

The branding process for A&M identified six core values: integrity, loyalty, excellence, leadership, selfless service, and respect. The last core value addresses a longtime problem at A&M—as Moore puts it, “respect, acceptance, and inclusion for all Aggies with respect to race, color, gender, and religion.” All of these values point to a core purpose: “to develop leaders of character dedicated to serving the greater good.”

Next up on the rebranding syllabus: Iraq?

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.