- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the news stories about Robert Gates’s memoirs, to be released next week, have made me step back and think about the 23 defense secretaries the nation has had. (Through World War II, there was a Navy secretary and a War secretary.) Here is my own personal ranking of the best and worst. I’ve tried to rate them by overall effectiveness, with extra points for handling civil-military relations well.
1. Robert Gates. He was tough-minded but not as querulous at the news stories about the memoirs have made him look.
2. William Perry. Low-key, but perhaps the clearest thinker I’ve ever met. He spoke in paragraphs, with topic sentences, explication, and then a conclusion that led to the next point. Provided adult leadership at a time when it was much needed.
3. Dick Cheney. He made a far better defense secretary than he did vice president, I think.
1. Donald Rumsfeld. Edges out McNamara just barely because I suspect he learned nothing in office, and because instead of engaging the mess in Iraq, he retreated from it. Publicly tough, privately indecisive.
2. Robert McNamara. Hubris in action. Someone who knew much less than he believed he did. Still, he tried. A very American figure.
3. Louis Johnson. What happens when an ambitious political hack runs the Pentagon.
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Situation Report |