Gates-speak

Mary Walsh is a producer for CBS News based at the Pentagon.
Google "Donald Rumseld quotes" and you'll get more than a million hits -- amusing quotations from the former Secretary of Defense.

Rumsfeld was famous for saying things like: "There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns."

(AP)
His successor Robert Gates talks a little straighter. And he's not afraid to have fun at the Pentagon's expense.

Why will it take five months to get troops on the ground for the so-called Iraq surge? "The Department of Defense, like a dinosaur, has no fine motor skills," Gates said. "We don't – whether it's budgets or logistics, we don't do things with a great amount of agility."

How fast does that dinosaur spend money? Think water pump on steroids. Here's how Gates handled a senator's question about a proposal to dodge the current pull-the-troops-out debate with a stopgap two-month Pentagon funding bill.

"Senator, my concerns about the proposal are actually very practical," he said. "A two-month appropriation assumes that the Department of Defense, first of all, has a precise idea, in real time, of the balances in thousands of accounts that we have to manage.

"In truth, I essentially have 10,000 faucets all running money. And some of them run at one rate; some of them run at another. And they all draw on one big pool of money behind them.

"Turning them on and off with precision and on a day-to-day basis or even a month-to-month basis, gets very difficult. I think the bill – the proposal – also assumes financial and cash flow controls, a precision in those controls, day-to-day would require a degree of agility that is not normally associated with the Department of Defense."

The budget Gates is presenting to Congress for next year totals nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars. Yet his plain talk and open attitude draws praise – even with liberal Democrats like Barbara Mikulski of blue-state Maryland.

"Mr. Secretary, you need to know you really have been, every day, winning my respect," she told him.

At press conference Secretary Gates may have been thinking about Congress as he waxed nostalgic about back in the day -- when Democrats and Republicans actually agreed about something. It was "an unwritten bipartisan consensus through nine successive presidencies on how to deal with the Soviet Union, through a policy of containment."

There were "huge disagreements over tactics" Gates said. But there also was fundamental agreement about national purpose.

Gates wants that again. As he put it, he wants bipartisan agreement
that "it's important to defend this country on the extremists' 10-yard line and not on our 10-yard line."

Easy to say.
  • Mary Walsh

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