Obama hails retiring Gates, the ‘humble’ patriot

Gates is stepping down after four years in a tough post at a time of great international turmoil. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama hailed retiring Defense Secretary Robert Gates Thursday as an honest, humble man who loved his troops and had one of the best tenures of any civilian Pentagon chief.

Obama appeared at an elaborate farewell ceremony to the gritty Gates, who is stepping down after four years in a tough post at a time of great international turmoil, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a surprise move, Obama also presented Gates at the Pentagon with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor he can bestow.

Obama said Gates was “a humble American patriot, a man of common sense and decency, quite simply one of our nation’s finest public servants.”

“Today, you are not only one of the longest serving American secretaries of defense in American history. It is also clear you have been one of the best,” Obama said at a ceremony punctuated by roars from jets taking off from nearby Reagan National Airport.

Gates, a consummate Washington operator who has served eight presidents in various roles, including leading the CIA, was a man who had the backs of his troops and “loved them and fought for them,” Obama said.

“I am deeply honored and moved,” Gates said after the surprise award of the medal, a twist to the ceremony not included on the official program.

“We should have known a couple of months ago, you are getting pretty good at this covert ops stuff,” he joked, in a reference to the raid Obama ordered into Pakistan in May which killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who opened the ceremony, also paid tribute to Gates as “impenetrably” honest, with a sharp sense of humor.

“He tells it straight, no bull, no fancy words.”

“He can throw a barb with the best of them — like the time he called Washington the only place in the world where somebody can walk down lover’s lane holding their own hand.”

Gates, whose tenure at the Pentagon overlapped former president George W. Bush and Obama, will be succeeded by another Washington public service veteran, Leon Panetta, who has been leading the CIA.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: