Robert Gates Says Power Can Skew a General’s Judgment

Robert Gates, the former U.S. defense secretary and CIA director, said the perquisites of power can warp the judgment of high-ranking officials.

“There is something about a sense of entitlement and of having great power that skews people’s judgment,” Gates said today at a conference in Chicago, while specifying he wouldn’t talk about the downfall of retired Army General David Petraeus, who also served as head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Petraeus stepped down on Nov. 9 after an FBI inquiry uncovered an extramarital affair. Gates cited recent cases of generals criticized for lavish spending of public funds.

“There is a temptation to take all these perks to the next level,” Gates, who is chancellor of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, said at the conference for investment advisers sponsored by Charles Schwab Corp.

Calling the benefits available to high-ranking officers the “third rail,” Gates said, “Maybe if I had stayed longer I would have tackled it, but I didn’t want to take it on.”

As the civilian defense secretary, Gates said he lived on a military base in Washington next door to Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“I was often jealous because he had four enlisted people helping him all the time,” Gates said. He said he would tell his wife: “Mullen’s got guys over there who are fixing meals for him, and I’m shoving something into the microwave. And I’m his boss.”

Ethics Review

The Pentagon announced today that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered a review of training programs and ethics guidelines for military officers to ensure that they understand their responsibilities.

The review wasn’t related to the Petraeus case and “was going to happen anyway,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters traveling with Panetta in Bangkok.

When ethical lapses occur, “they have the potential to erode public confidence in our leadership and in our system for the enforcement of our high ethical standards,” Panetta wrote in a memo directing Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to conduct the review. “Worse, they can be detrimental to the execution of our mission to defend the American people.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation probe uncovered the affair involving Petraeus, who gained fame as the general leading U.S. forces in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It also unearthed e-mails between Jill Kelley, a friend of Petraeus, and Marine Corps General John Allen.

Allen Inquiry

Panetta has ordered an inspector general’s investigation of Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Some of the e-mails between Allen and Kelley were described as flirtatious by a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the pending inquiry.

Allen “intends to fully cooperate” with the inspector general’s investigation and has directed his staff to do so as well, according to a statement from his lawyer, Marine Colonel John Baker.

Questions about the conduct of senior U.S. military officers were reinforced by the Nov. 13 demotion of the former head of the U.S. Africa Command, Army General William Ward, who was found to have spent thousands of dollars of taxpayer money on unofficial travel and other unauthorized expenses.

He will be forced to retire as a three-star lieutenant general and repay the government about $82,000, the Pentagon said.

Ward, 63, who served as the first commander of Africa Command until last year, “engaged in multiple forms of misconduct related to official and unofficial travel,” wasted government money and “misused his position,” according to a redacted version of an inspector general’s report obtained in August through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Ward denied wrongdoing in a letter to the inspector general cited in the report.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE