Robert Gates Celebrates His Past With 'Duty,' But Continues To Look Forward

Mar 28, 2014


Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has just released his memoirs of his time in both the Bush and Obama White Houses. It’s called Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary At War. In it, Gates writes about situations in China, the Middle East, and Russia.

Gates, who holds a Ph.D. in Russian and Soviet History, writes in Duty that he viewed Vladimir Putin as a “stone-cold killer,” and that he's been watching Russia once more with a close eye.

“I think the key thing is to remember is that this is part of a broader strategy that he has of trying to create a pro-Russian bloc among the states of the former Soviet Union, that became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In his view, those states—whether it’s Georgia, or Ukraine, or Belarus, or anybody else—really don't have the right to choose which countries and alliances they want to align themselves with,” Gates adds.

“They need to, in effect, report to Moscow. So, we’ve seen this movie before in the sense of the invasion of Georgia in 2008. Pressures put on Armenia and Moldova and others, so this is part of a much larger strategy and the biggest concern is now that you’ve had, for the first time since World War II in Europe, a forcible land grab. The question is whether it will be allowed to stand or what the response of the United States and Europe will be.”

Gates says that there are other events he’s watching, and some of those are not receiving wide media attention.

“There are a number of flash points. People need to remember what’s going on in Syria. The fact that there are now probably something on the order of 140,000 people there who have been killed in the civil war. And it has the potential to spread throughout the Middle East—this conflict between Sunnis and Shia, between authoritarians and reformers, between Islamists and secularists."

"I think that we’re seeing China behave more aggressively in the East China Sea, vis-à-vis Japan," Gates adds. "In the South China Sea in respect to their neighbors there, in terms of making exaggerated claims for economic benefits."

Gates says there's also a very unpredictable leader in North Korea. "We would like to get on with domestic affairs and pay attention only to what’s going on here at home. Unfortunately, the rest of the world, as we pull back, that vacuum is not being filled by good guys or by democracy, but it’s being filled with those who are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs and determined to change it, one way or another.”

Asked if he feels that the U.S. military is prepared to meet potential challenges of current global situations, Gates says that he’s confident that the military could respond adequately today. The future, on the other hand, he says, is another matter.

“A few months or a year or so from now, given the level of the cuts that are taking place, and the way the cuts are being administered. One of the challenges of sequestration, for example, one of the reasons that it’s so stupid, is that it doesn’t prioritize." Gates says when sequestration is in effect, "it requires you to cut the most important thing you’re doing at the level you’re cutting the least important thing you’re doing. So you have no choices in terms of making sensible decisions."

“Beyond that," he adds "When Congress tells the Defense Department that it can’t touch personnel costs, which represent a third to a half of the budget, when they can’t close superfluous facilities, when they can’t cut certain programs, then, what you’re left with are cuts to operations, maintenance and training. That’s military effectiveness. That's what leads you straight to the kind of hollow military we had in the late 1970s.”

Gate's book is Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary At War, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Gates will read from the book and sign copies of it at a special event on Monday, March 31, in the Miller Concert Hall at the Duerksen Fine Arts building on the WSU campus.

Beaudoin: “I will ask maybe the toughest question of the interview now, which will be my final one: Do you feel any urge to run for office in the upcoming years, perhaps the presidency?”

Gates: “Never. I’ve been married 47 years and I think the response would be instant divorce.”