Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Gates on strategy

I think this observation made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Army War College in early April captures the essence of strategy, much more than anything about tying together ways, means and goals. By the time a decision gets to the president, there are no good options. If there was a good option, somebody ...

586295_090429_gatesB2.jpg
586295_090429_gatesB2.jpg

I think this observation made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Army War College in early April captures the essence of strategy, much more than anything about tying together ways, means and goals.

By the time a decision gets to the president, there are no good options. If there was a good option, somebody at a lower level would have made the decision and taken credit for it. By the time a decision gets to the president or secretary of Defense, more often than not, you've having to choose the least bad option."

I think this observation made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Army War College in early April captures the essence of strategy, much more than anything about tying together ways, means and goals.

By the time a decision gets to the president, there are no good options. If there was a good option, somebody at a lower level would have made the decision and taken credit for it. By the time a decision gets to the president or secretary of Defense, more often than not, you’ve having to choose the least bad option.”

Of the six defense secretaries I’ve covered, the two most effective were William Perry and Robert Gates. Both are smart, articulate, reserved, and wise. The difference between the two, I think, is that Gates seems to me to have a killer instinct, which probably helps him herd the services along. Just ask the Air Force these days.

U.S. Army

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.