In 2008, under another president, Robert Gates spent 115 days traveling to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and 23 other countries. But this year, writes the New York Times, the defense secretary has been spending much more time in Washington. Gates, the only holdover from the Bush Cabinet, has slowly secured a key role under Barack Obama, the eighth president he has served.
Gates has become a pivotal player in the administration's new Afpak policy—despite or even because of his experience at the CIA, which during his tenure funneled money to the Afghan militants that became the Taliban. It remains unclear how much longer he'll remain at the head of the Pentagon, but his pragmatic approach has won him admiration. "Bob has enormous influence because of his experience," said Richard Holbrooke. "He has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly up close."