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Gen. Conway said Mr. Gates typically began a meeting by taking off his suit coat in a gesture that it was time to get down to work. He said the defense secretary liked to insert an anecdote or two “to keep things light.”

“He was very likable. … He would not always agree with you, but he wanted to hear you out,” Gen. Conway said.

On gays and the termination of the fighting vehicle, Gen. Conway said, “You can’t pick up all your marbles and go home simply because you don’t win every argument.”

He said the Pentagon remains committed to some type of new landing vehicle.

Final thoughts

Mr. Gates now is backtracking from his “head examined” remark that dominated press coverage of his West Point speech dedicated to the Army’s future. Some conservatives interpreted the remark as ruling out any future land war in the Middle East under any condition.

“We were attacked out of Afghanistan,” Mr. Gates told CNN recently. “And in a way, if I had it all to do over again, I probably would have used different wording at West Point, because if the United States is directly threatened, I will be the first in line to say we should use military force and that we should do so with all the power that we have available to us.”

Mr. Gates paid a farewell visit this month to the troops in Afghanistan.

“There are many aspects to this job. The only thing that I’ll miss is the people that I work with and, above all, the opportunity to interact with the troops,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”

“I just spent three days with them in Afghanistan a week and a half ago, and getting on that plane was very hard. Leaving them behind and still in the fight. They’re so dedicated and so confident, and they’re so capable. They’re just extraordinary people.”

On CNN, he gave a final warning:

“There are clearly going to be some cuts in things that I care about. But the United States has global interests. We’ve had global interests for a century and a half. The United States has been a global power since late in the 19th century. We have interests. We have allies. We have partners. We have a bad history. When we turn inward, we end up in a really big war.”