Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates Keynotes Nutanix Now Partner Conference

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The second came in April  2007, during a real low point for the U.S. fighting in Iraq, when then-Secretary of Defense Gates read in USA Today about a vehicle that might be able to protect U.S. troops from IEDs, or improvised explosive devices. "It seemed the new vehicle, the MRAP, the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, could save thousands of soldiers," he said.

However, many in the Pentagon were against the MRAP for several reasons, including the fact that they were not made for fighting, they were too wide, they had no use after the war, and they were too expensive at $1 million each, Gates said. More important, though, was the fact that they could save lives, he said.

"I believe I had to seize the moment to go all-in to save lives. ... There was no doubt the decision to commit to the MRAP was the right one."

The third was the decision in 2009 to send a surge of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan instead of scaling back the U.S. presence in that country or leaving it altogether, which would open the door to a fundamentalist takeover, Gates said.

President Obama agreed to the surge, Gates said. "The decision was right. ... The timing was right," he said. "Any delay would be a disaster."

The fourth example was President Obama's decision to raid the compound in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was believed to be hiding. Gates said the decision was based on fairly weak intelligence, and that he and others worried that such a raid might not capture bin Laden, would not succeed, or would anger the Pakistanis.

Analysts had estimated the chance of success of the raid to be 40 percent to 80 percent, Gates said. "As a former CIA analyst, I know those numbers were phony," he said. "They were putting numbers on gut instinct."

While President Obama made the right call in giving the green light for the bin Laden raid, the disaster of Operation Eagle Claw, the failed 1980 plan of President Carter to rescue U.S. hostages held by Iran, caused skepticism inside the government, Gates said. "Three decades later, the memory was seared in our hearts," he said.

Gates concluded that all leaders can benefit from the examples he provided, as well as countless other examples.

"Recognize that the newer the terrain, in war and in business, makes making the decision difficult," he said.

NEXT: Applying Gates' Lessons To IT And The Channel

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