Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates stopped by the Pentagon mid-Sandy on Monday to see his official portrait unveiled.
“A sure sign you’ve been in Washington too long,” he said, “is when Ray Kinstler has more than one crack at your portrait a generation apart.” Kinstler – painter of seven presidents and numerous other top government officials – painted Gates’ portrait that now hangs at the CIA, where he served as director from 1991 to 1993. He also served as defense chief from 2005 to 2011.
“Recently, I took another look at Ray’s official portrait of me from 1993,” Gates noted. “It didn’t seem all that different, a few pounds lighter, maybe a couple of inches taller. The hair a more useful shade of white.”
These gatherings are always interesting because the principals tend to say things that would have made news if they’d ever said them while in office. Somehow, truth becomes more palatable the less power you have.
Gates conceded, for example, that “I confess that back at CIA, I might have been less motivated to win the Cold War if I had known that the result would be NATO conferences in which 28 defense ministers would be present, all entitled to speak.” OK. That was a joke.
But he also noted he spent time “being shaken down by the defense minister of Kyrghyzstan for rent at Manas airbase” — a critical supply post for the war in Afghanistan.
While Gates made clear that he enjoyed the demanding job, it was the troops’ well-being that always came first. “That’s what I hope people will remember,” Gates said, “when they walk down the E-ring corridor and see my portrait.”