He also claimed to prize vigorous debate over “groupthink.”
“I am a strong believer in strong personalities and strong decisionmaking,” Obama said Monday.
Obama was widely expected to retain Gates, a one-time war protester and registered Independent respected among Democrats and Republicans. The Defense secretary, who will not need to be confirmed by the Senate, has long been concerned about continuity at the Pentagon in the first wartime transition in 40 years.
Gates was hired as a “Mr. Fix It” for Iraq two years ago, but now his primary task will be to manage the drawdown of about 146,000 troops there, a task described by officers as a logistical and dangerous tightrope walk.
Although the secretary has never been a hard-liner on Iraq, he has said the drawdown should be based on conditions on the ground. Obama, on the other hand, has pledged that troops would be redeployed within 16 months. On Monday, he said he will stick to that goal, while leaving some forces for training Iraqi personnel.
Analysts and military officers in the Pentagon suggest that a compromise of sorts will take place in which Obama presses Gates to move faster and Gates in turn moderates Obama’s policy to reflect ground conditions.