Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had his famous rules, a written roster of commands about how to deal with Washington, including such pearls as “It is easier to get into something than to get out of it.” Robert Gates his successor in the Bush Administration and, as of this week, the Obama Administration doesn’t have a list of rules. Those who only see his serious pronouncements about the nation’s wars might even get the impression that Gates doesn’t have a personality.
But confidants say Gates can be a funny guy who specializes in punch line humor inspired by Bill Cosby, Sam Kinison and W.C. Fields. After leaving the CIA following a 26-year career, Gates spent more than a decade giving speeches and honing his delivery. On Monday, after being tapped by Barack Obama to continue managing the nation’s two wars, Gates jetted to Minot, N.D., to become the first Defense Secretary ever to visit the airmen at the missile base there. “It’s always great to be out of Washington, D.C. the only city in the world where you can see a prominent person walking down lovers’ lane holding his own hand,” he quipped.
So is he the funniest Secretary of Defense ever The competition is admittedly slight, but judge for yourself with the following selections from the wit and wisdom of Robert Gates.
“In the intelligence business, when you smell the flowers, you look around for the coffin.” June 20, 2008, at the retirement ceremony for Air Force General and CIA chief Michael Hayden
“Y’all took 10 years off my life, years I can’t afford. I expect it’ll be another great game, and I think I’ll stay away in a safe place, like Baghdad.” April 22, 2008, at West Point, N.Y., when Army played Texas A&M, where Gates was president before coming to the Pentagon
“With Bono visiting the other day, I thought U2 was a plane.” Jan. 25, 2008, before a military gathering in Washington
“The first fall I was at Texas A&M and we changed the football coach, I told the press that I had overthrown the governments of medium-sized countries with less controversy.” Nov. 26, 2007, before the Killeen, Texas, chamber of commerce
“God only knows how many lives have been saved by my becoming director of
CIA instead of a doctor.” Oct. 25, 2007, after acknowledging he got a D in calculus as a premed student
“The Pentagon is just a huge place. David Brinkley told a story about a woman who told a Pentagon guard she was in labor and needed help in getting to a hospital. The guard said, ‘Madame, you shouldn’t have come in here in that condition.’ She replied, ‘When I came in here, I wasn’t.'” March 27, 2007, to the American-Turkish Council
“They say Washington’s a city of monuments. I have to say the most monumental things that I’ve seen in over 40 years is the egos of some of the people I’ve worked for. And I have to tell you, the most monumental ego was the first President I worked for, Lyndon Johnson. Johnson once had the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Ludwig Erhard, to the L.B.J. Ranch. And Erhard at one point said, ‘Well, Mr. President, were you born in a log cabin’ And L.B.J. responded, ‘Why, no, Mr. Chancellor, I was born in a manger.’ July 18, 2007, at a Marine Corps Association dinner
“On the way out here, my Air Force pilots had a chance to give me a few minor suggestions for my speech. They said I should definitely mention Billy Mitchell and Curtis LeMay and Hap Arnold and Eddie Rickenbacker and Dick
Bong and Steve Ritchie and the Doolittle Raiders and the Flying Tigers and the Tuskegee Airmen, and even Old Chicagos and Phantom Canyon and Hap’s Place. I told them I wasn’t sure I could work them all in, but I’d do my best. They responded by telling me they weren’t sure if they could avoid heavy turbulence on the flight home, but they’d certainly do their best.” May 30, 2007, addressing the Air Force Academy class of 2007 in Colorado Springs
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