Exclusive: Defense Secretary Robert Gates 'On the Record', Part 2

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 9, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Now part two of your interview with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Rome, Italy. Secretary Gates gives you the inside story on working with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of dealing with all these worldly problems, they're obviously political problems and military problems, how do you work with the State Department on all these? Historically the State Department and Defense Department have been a little at odds.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I would say that's an understatement.


VAN SUSTEREN: I didn't know how to say it politely. You got the big budget, though, compared to the State Department. How is the State Department and the Defense Department working together now?

GATES: I think it starts with attitude. And I think that it is important to recognize that the secretary of state is the principle spokesperson for American foreign policy, and Department of Defense and our capabilities are in support of that, in support of the president and in support of the secretary of state.

And I had a very good relationship with secretary rice. I have a very good relationship with Secretary Clinton. I've seen things that have State Department and people in the Pentagon each saying independently saying, career people saying the cooperation has never been better.

I think we understand we can't win in Afghanistan without the civilian component. We understood in Iraq that civilian component was important.

I think PhD dissertations should be written about the relationship between Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus, because it is a model of a relationship between the senior civilian and the senior military officer.

So I think in all these dimensions and our understanding the value of trying to prevent conflicts from happening rather than us having to send troops in after they've already taken place. And so building the capabilities, both civilian and military, of governments around the world who are our friends and partners is key, and we've got to cooperate to do that.

VAN SUSTEREN: So how do you do that, how do you build a relationship with the State Department? Do you and Secretary of State Clinton meet often, talk often?

GATES: It is a tone at the top thing for sure, because if the two people at the top don't get along it absolutely radiates down through the bureaucracy.

And it's going back to the Bush administration when I was director of CIA and Larry Eagleburger was deputy secretary and then secretary of state. People knew that Eagleburger and I along and we talked all the time and we were friends, and that trying to get us to fight with each other was not career enhancing.

Video: Watch Greta's full interview with Defense Secretary Gates

Video: Defense Secretary Gates on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

And once you send that message, then it really does begin to radiate. So we talk all the time, Secretary Clinton and I talk all the time on a secure phone, we have lunch together regularly, just the two of us, no staff. And we get together regularly once a week with General Jones at the White House so the three of us are linked up.

VAN SUSTEREN: You have served President Bush 43 as secretary of defense and President Obama as secretary of defense. What is the difference in terms of the job?

GATES: About a year ago I was doing a Sunday talk show and started to answer that question, and I told myself I would never go down that road again. And so I'm not.

VAN SUSTEREN: There's no --

GATES: There will come a time.

VAN SUSTEREN: You won't go down that road.

All right, how about going down this road -- what's the difference -- I realize time and history and a lot has changed, but what is the different between director of the CIA and secretary of defense?

GATES: Doing TV interviews. I didn't do many news conversations when I was director of CIA and I didn't have much of a ceremonial role. There's a much bigger public dimension. And also, maybe the best thing, all of my hearings on the Hill were closed.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is the job much different?

GATES: It is very different.

VAN SUSTEREN: In what way?

GATES: First of all, just the size. The Defense Department is the largest and most complex organization on the planet, three million people. I just was up on the Hill asking for a budget of $708 billion dollars.

So -- and you have, just like right now, I mean, the CIA had a terrible tragedy a couple of weeks ago in Afghanistan, a month ago. But, men and women in uniform are being wounded and killed every day in Afghanistan. And that's a dimension of this job that really was not part of the job at CIA.

I remember, at CIA I only had to go to Andrews to receive home the remains of an intelligence officer once, but these kinds of things are happening everyday on this job. And that is a dimension that, except for the president, nobody else in the government for the country can fully understand or grasp.

The president makes the decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. But I'm the guy that signs the piece of paper that actually says which units are going to go. And I never forget that for a day.


VAN SUSTEREN: Later we asked secretary gates about the "don't ask don't tell" policy.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Secretary, what about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?

GATES: The president has made his decision. I said in the hearings last week that I support it. The review that I am launching is to help inform the legislative process of some facts about the attitudes of our men and women in uniform, what they think about a change in the law, what their families think.

The truth is we don't have any facts. There are a lot of articles, a lot of assertions made. But we need to understand all of the different things that have to be with in terms of housing and benefits and regulations and fraternization rules and conduct and training, and so on so that if the Congress does change the law, we can inform that process and offer suggestions on mitigation from -- if are going to be negative consequences, so we can figure out how to mitigate those consequences.

And if the law is passed then we are in a much better position to go forward and implement those changes in a way that doesn't undermine unit cohesion and readiness.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do I understand full speed ahead, assuming Congress does this?

GATES: I have said on a number of occasions I think this has to be done very carefully and very deliberately. The military culture is a very strong one. It's a very different culture than a civilian culture. These people do not have choices about who they associate with. They can't just up and walk off the job if they don't like somebody that they are working with.

And so, we have to take all that into account it seems to me. I know people say I'm just delaying or whatever, but I think this is a big change for the military, and it has to be done in a careful way.

We have a force that has been under stress for eight years, been at war for a years, and I don't want to do anything that makes the situation more difficult for those men and women in the fight. So we're going to do this, as the president said, and if Congress changes the law, it is important to do it right.

As I said at one of the hearings, I've led change in big institutions, several big institutions, and I've done it smart and I've done it stupid, and this is important enough that we better do it smart.

VAN SUSTEREN: It is a fact that gays have been serving in the military. The only difference it is not openly. How does the openly change things? I understand for the person who doesn't live the secret or the lie, I understand that, but how does it change it for the military?

GATES: I think that's one of the things we have to find out.


VAN SUSTEREN: There's so much more of our interview with Secretary Gates. We covered so many countries. But go to GretaWire.com tomorrow to see the entire interview with the secretary.

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