06/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Robert Gates Unleashed: "What Are They Going To Do, Fire Me?"

A few weeks ago, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates trooped up to Capitol Hill to answer questions about the new Pentagon budget. This is an unseemly spectacle under the best of circumstances. Even reasonable members of Congress have been known to empretzel themselves shamelessly, attempting to defend weapons the Pentagon doesn't want or need, but which provide jobs for their constituents. Usually, they win, too. It is just too difficult for a Secretary of Defense to argue against shiny new weapons systems with subcontractors in 46 states, even if they are fantastically over budget and designed to counter a missile threat that the Soviets never perfected 30 years ago.

But this is a different year, and Gates is a different sort of Defense Secretary. He warned the legislators that each decision was "zero sum." Any money that went to things he didn't want would come out of programs necessary to support the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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