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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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Gates Leaving Pentagon in 2011

August 16, 2010 - 12:33 PM | by: Justin Fishel

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates will retire from his post as the military’s civilian boss sometime in 2011, he told Foreign Policy Magazine in an interview published Monday.

His press secretary, Geoff Morrell, acknowledged to Fox News that Gates has been “trying in vain to find the appropriate time to retire… and that it makes sense to bow out in 2011.”

Gates said that he feels it’s best to leave after the Afghanistan surge is complete and after the administration has had the chance to review its effect. “I think that by next year I’ll be in a position where — you know, we’re going to know whether the strategy is working in Afghanistan,” he told Foreign Policy’s Fred Kaplan.

Gates also said a 2011 departure date makes sense politically. “It would be a mistake to wait until January 2012″ before leaving, Gates said, because it’s too close to Obama’s campaign for reelection. Leaving at that time might make it difficult find a replacement knowing there is a possibility the President wont win a second term.

In past interviews and press conferences Secretary Gates has been very cautious in his response to questions about when he might retire. Earlier this month during a press conference with the Pentagon press he was asked when he plans to leave. “I’m going to be here longer than either I or others thought,” he responded.

Gates holds a unique statistic as the only Secretary of Defense to have served under two consecutive presidents from opposing political parties. He’s openly admitted this was not a record he was trying to achieve and the end of the Bush administration he had his eye on retirement. He was quoted at the time saying the circumstances under which he would stay on were “inconceivable.”

According to officials in the building it’s premature to determine who might be in line to replace Gates, but there are a few names still on the list from when Obama made his decision the first time around. They include: Michelle Flournoy; current head of policy at the Defense Department; former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig; and John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Pentagon officials declined to say whether Gates has discussed his retirement with President Obama. White House spokesman Bill Burton told the reporters Monday that Secretary Gates has served with “great distinction” and did the country a “great favor” by staying on with the new administration.

Morrell added one caveat to the matter, telling Fox that it’s not over until the Secretary makes a formal announcement. ”Every time Secretary Gates has seriously considered hanging it up for good, he ultimately has decided to keep serving,” Morrell wrote to Fox in an email.  “So my personal advice would be to wait for a real announcement or better yet wait to see what happens next year.”

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