I think Robert Gates is probably the best Secretary of Defense (or Secretary of War) since Henry L. Stimson and probably in the Top 5 in all of American history (a lot of Americans would probably be surprised to realize that many historians, including myself consider Jefferson Davis to be #1). Gates was loyal, dependable, incredibly smart, eminently qualified, and had the respect and confidence of not only the military, but two Presidents from different parties who had almost nothing in common other than Robert Gates as their Secretary of Defense. For President Bush and President Obama, Secretary Gates was the ideal Cabinet member — supportive, yet unafraid to voice objections or an opposing viewpoint, and completely capable of managing his department and getting the most out of his people. I have nothing but respect for Robert Gates.
Like you, I’ve tried to stay out of the whole subject because it is a difficult one.
With Crowley, however, I’m kind of old-fashioned. In a way, it’s the same way I feel about Private Manning. It’s honorable to be a whistleblower, especially on something you feel strongly about, but you have to face the consequences. In Manning’s case, he (allegedly) broke a whole lot of laws. In Crowley’s case, he criticized the government that he worked for, and there’s already a natural rivalry between the State Department and the Defense Department, so exacerbating those tensions is bad for the Administration. It wasn’t his job to criticize the Defense Department’s handling of a problem; if he wanted to be a pundit, he could quit his job and do just that. I don’t have a major problem with how the Obama Administration handled it.
I’m not a huge fan of the “so far” rankings because it’s kind of unfair to judge someone’s job performance on a job that they aren’t finished doing. However, I understand it is a part of politics and that a President’s performance is constantly judged — just as a President’s legacy is constantly evolving.
The problem with success/failure is that you have to choose one or the other when anyone who observes President Obama’s performance objectively would have to note that he’s had successes and failures during his nearly two-and-a-half years in office. If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to decide, I’d say “success”. (Actually, if someone put a gun to my head and forced me to decide, I’d say, “Why is it so important that you’d have to put a gun to my head? I think you are taking this far too seriously, sir.” But then I’d say, “success”.) I think that there have been some major challenges and that Obama hasn’t performed as well as I had hoped he would when I voted for him in 2008. However, I’m much happier with Obama in the White House than I would have been with John McCain and I feel like we’re in a better place right now than we were during the last years of President Bush’s term.