Transcript: Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and Sec. of Defense Robert Gates Speak to Cynthia McFadden

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McFADDEN: Here we are in Australia. You know, it's been said that you're the most powerful Secretary of Defense since McNamara. Do you buy it?

GATES: I think all that stuff comes out in retrospect. The historians have to decide that, and you know, that's not what I wanted when I took this job. What I wanted was to be effective and make a difference. And we'll see.

McFADDEN: You've had a remarkable run. The first person in the 60 years the job's existed to be asked by an incoming president to stay on. Were you surprised when you got that first phone call?

GATES: I had gotten a call from a fellow senator of his I guess in mid-summer 2008. And and so I had had feelers from both camps on whether I would stay on. And and basically I said I didn't want to, but it was a conversation I would be willing to have.

McFADDEN: And now looking back two years, good decision?

GATES: Well I I think so. You know, I'm grateful to President Bush for having given me the opportunity to do this, and I'm grateful to President Obama for giving me the opportunity to do more than I originally anticipated. When I took this job, I said I had one agenda item -- Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. And although, you know, we see the problems and putting the government together and so on, I think Iraq's probably going to turn out okay. So I feel pretty good about that.

And under President Obama, it's been a chance to try and do something about Afghanistan, but also because I didn't think I'd have enough time to do it under President Bush. Under President Obama the time to actually take a look at the way the Pentagon gets run and to try and make some changes there as well.

McFADDEN: You've had a unique opportunity to serve both Bush and Obama, and I know you don't like to do comparisons. But I'm just wondering if there's a way you could point to a similarity between the two men and a way you could point to a difference between them?

GATES: Well, I would point to a similarity that I think has characterized ah all eight presidents that I worked for, and that is I think most Americans don't appreciate how much they all care about the country . . .

McFADDEN: . . . Regardless of the policy? . . .

GATES: . . . and how often they are willing to put aside what is in their best political interest to do what they think is best for the country. One reviewer of my book almost 15 years ago said he never met a president he didn't like. I would say that I never met a president I didn't respect, because they all tried to do what they thought was right. Maybe with the exception of one!

McFADDEN: Now you've gotta tell me which one!

GATES: Well, he resigned.

McFADDEN: I guess we know then, President Nixon. You know, in terms of how they're different though, how their management styles are different, how their visions were different, you have had this incredible opportunity to see both men function up close, both Bush and Obama. What would be the primary difference between the two, would you say?

GATES: Well, like you said at the outset, I don't talk about that. And I intend to write about it someday.

McFADDEN: We'll have to pay for that one . . .

GATES: . . . So stay tuned.

McFADDEN: We're gonna have to pay for that one, huh?

GATES: Yeah, pretty much!

McFADDEN: Okay, fair enough!

[laughter]

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