Highs: In what may well be his last year as Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates oversaw a Pentagon transitioning fronts abroad and buffeted by political winds of change at home. Under his stewardship, combat operations in Iraq came to a nominal end on August 31 (50,000 U.S. soldiers remain there) as 30,000 more troops were deployed to the mountains and plains of Afghanistan. Gates hailed the renewed efforts there, remarking during a December visit that the surge had "exceeded my expectations." Domestically, Gates won accolades for laying out $100 billion in potential savings from the expansive defense budget and navigated a political mine field in his efforts to study and ultimately recommend a repeal of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" ban on openly gay service in the military.
Lows: Gates's accomplishments were not without their setbacks and, at times, came at great costs. New offensives in Afghanistan made 2010 the bloodiest year for NATO forces to date in the nineyear conflict. Despite the Defense Secretary's optimism, public opinion soured on the war as the violence intensified. At home, deficit fever gripped the nation and President Obama's fiscal panel recommended military cuts far beyond the scope of Pentagon approval. And Gates experienced firsthand the gumminess of the Senate in December when the chamber narrowly failed to pass "Don't Ask Don't Tell" repeal as part of a defense authorization bill, throwing the future of the policy into doubt.