The Drew community welcomed the “soldier’s secretary” Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense and director of the CIA, to the Simon Forum as a part of the 2012 Thomas H. Kean Visiting Lecturer series on Wednesday evening,
After a warm welcome from President of the University Bob Weisbuch, Gates offered those in attendance quite a few laughs. “Earlier today I had the chance to speak with some Baldwin Scholars,” he stated. “As expected, I was continually impressed. Students I interact with always present me with more thought-out queries than the ones I received from Congress,” he chuckled. “And, additionally, the students truly care about my answers,” he said.
Following his subtle rag on congress, Gates expressed his genuine joy to be at Drew, and followed it up by stating, “It’s honestly nice to be anywhere but Washington, D.C.—the only place in the world where it’s very common to see a prominent figure walking down lover’s lane holding his own hand.”
Gearing up to his more serious part of his lecture, Gates touched upon his presidency at Texas A&M University. “Before becoming Secretary of Defense in 2006, I observed the life and happenings of college students on a daily basis. I’d observe most of the 18-23 (generally speaking) college students browsing the campus in T-shirts, backpacks, and shorts, and this seemed normal,” he said. “But just months following my time at Texas A&M, it was time for me to observe the same aged college kids, but dressed quite differently. Military soldiers dressed in layers of armor became my daily routine, observing college aged students giving up their dreams, so students like these here at Drew, can pursue theirs,” he stated sympathetically.
“But before I get into that, I just might add that during my final months at Texas A&M, I had to fire the football coach, and firing a football coach in Texas is no joke. I told fellow administrators that I had overthrown governments with less controversy,” he laughed once more.
In opening the more detailed portion of his speech, Gates focused on the concept of the U.S. as a “singular and vast hyper-power,” one widely resented by other counties of the world. Continuing this concept, Gates commented that sadly, many countries in the world “welcomed the calamity of 9/11 as the aloof hyper-power was finally humbled.”
He continued to explain that as a result of 9/11, the United States was left to handle two wars and an “all-out push” against al-Qaida. Of course, he commented, the United States’ over-riding priority is to prevent terrorism, and on the large scale more recently, we have. He explained that the United States is much safer now than it was ten years ago. “We now know about al-Qaida, and another large-scale attack on the homeland would be very difficult,” he stated. Although Gates commented he feels the United States is now much safer, he continued to state that we have been lucky many of the “so-called terrorists have been amateurs and have faced multiple blunders, but as a whole, the nation has improved heightened awareness on terrorism dangers and decreased outsider’s abilities to thwart out system.”
While speaking with Gates he explained that although a large-scale attack on the United States homeland would be very difficult, he explained that it is now crucial for the U.S. to monitor more self-radicalized terrorists, for example, the recent French extremists in the news. Within his lecture, Gates stated, “We can no more eliminate the risks of terrorism than we can eliminate the risk of crime. The best we can do is reduce the risk, but to stop any and all kinds of terror is unrealistic. The United States as a nation, must work together to minimize risks through the fulfillment of our rights, privacy, and dignity as a nation.”
In addition to securing U.S rights, privacy and security, Gates stressed the importance of building enough Afghan security in order to support and maintain the nation in the fight against terror. In touching upon this issue, Gates briefly touched upon the removal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. “A rush for the exits could create a like ‘civil war,’” he commented. “What we must focus on is drawdowns, removal of troops on a well-thought out, accurate scale. We must determine the pace, and follow it. The pace will simply be set by the conditions on the ground at the given time, and that is what we must focus on,” he said.
“The key is to build trust with the Middle Eastern nations,” he stated. “We are aware that the behavior of the Pakistanis is frustrating, but we need the support and help of the Pakistanis, we have no choice but to work together,” Gates said.
He continued to explain that the future of Iraq is now in the hands of the Iraqis. “They are one of the only Middle Eastern nations working towards a democracy and let’s hope, after all the sacrifices made, they can keep it,” he stated.
“In National Security and Defense there are no ‘do-overs’ and as a nation, we must make the correct choices that after all the heartbreak and loss, will influence the nation in a positive way,” he said.
Overall, Gates argued that while working with Middle Eastern nations, “America’s unpopularity must be taken into account.” According to Gates, “The tectonic plate of the Middle East has cracked, allowing for far more problems ahead for the United States and Israel,” he said.
Although Gates feels the figurative plate of the Middle East has cracked, he explained he feels there is, in fact, an end in sight. “I’ve heard many times, ‘The Taliban will wait you out,’ and my response to this is always, ‘great, if they want to wait it out while we get more Afghans on our side, ‘great’” he smiled.
In beginning to wrap up his speech, Gates stated, “I am frequently known as the Eeyore of National Security. I am known for being able to find the darkest lining in the world’s brightest cloud,” he stated. “But—in terms of the future of security in the United States, I do see one silver lining.”
“We have many obstacles ahead, and many left to overcome, but we sure do have the power and ability to overcome them,” he said. “If you take one message away from me tonight I hope it is that the United States sustains global, economic, and social dominance, yes. But—the future and success of our nation depends not on other countries but on the decisions we make, as well as the courage and unity that we demonstrate.”