Seven (New) Things We Learned from Robert Gates

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Robert Gates, who served as U.S. Secretary of Defense from 2006 to 2011 and is also the former Director of Central Intelligence, talks about his new book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary At War, and his reflections from the Bush and Obama administrations.

Seven Things Robert Gates Told Us That You're Not Hearing Him Say Everywhere Else

On Thursday's show, David Sanger of the New York Times follows up on some of Gate's comments.

Hillary Clinton Is a Surprising Hawk Gates says he'd never met Hillary Clinton until they were both part of the Obama administration, but that their first meeting convinced him she was more hawkish than he'd anticipated -- he found her to be "very tough-minded."

George Bush Was This Close to Bombing Iran  Military strikes against Iran were seriously considered under George W Bush, mostly in reaction to Iranian influence in Iraq. “When the president said all options were on the table, he meant that.” Gates says he was opposed because he felt there was more time to increase pressure through sanctions, and that “we were already in two major wars.”

He's Ambivalent About the New Iran Deal The Obama administration was “completely correct” in sitting at the table to negotiate with Iran, says Gates, and this deal shows the sanctions strategy “has probably worked." But he says the test is what comes next. Gates insists that sticking to a six-month deadline is key, and that “what might be useful is for the congress to pass significant additional sanctions, triggered only by the failure of the negotiations.”

Leakers - But Not Journos - Should Be Prosecuted "We shouldn't make reporters the targets of leak investigations,” says Gates. But he thinks Edward Snowden should face trial, as he's the one who “breached trust.”

We Won Iraq (Depending on How You Define "Win") Gates says that "since the Korean War we've found that it’s very difficult to have outright victories." But, in 2008, with the "narrow objectives of handing over a stable state that’s relatively secure, with a fledgling democracy... we were successful in our mission." Gates says that “you can’t freeze history,” and acknowledges that the country has slid backwards since.

The NSA Has Actually Been Transparent Gates insists that "there has been no allegation of wrong-doing" regarding NSA programs, and that the agency has actually been "diligent in keeping Congress informed" of the nature of their programs. He says the question for Congress coming on the heels of the Snowden revelations is whether in "the application" of these programs the NSA went too far.

He's Fine With Criticizing a Sitting President Gates has received push-back for writing about a sitting president under whom he served. But he says his goal is to show a "polarized Washington" how he was successful, and influence issues of "war and peace" (Iran, Russia, China) where he thinks we "are to quick to go to the gun," in many cases.


Robert Gates

Comments [34]

John Craig is right on. Gates appears not to know what is in the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill. It does indeed condition new sanctions on the failure of negotiations. Most believe it would also undermine negotiations -- perhaps Gates would too, if he knew its core provisions. More here

Jan. 16 2014 03:46 PM
John Craig

I've read and listened to many comments about the controversial Senate proposal to increase sanctions on Iran. Almost all take the view that imposing more sanctions now could derail negotiations to prevent Iran from becoming (to use Secretary Gates term) a "threshhold nuclear weapon" state. When I read the actual proposal, it looks like Section 3 allows President Obama to delay the implementation of sanctions until the 6-month period of negotiation has expired or failed to achieve a satisfactory agreement. This appears to create exactly the kind of positive pressure on Iran that Secretary Gates recommends. Am I reading the proposal correctly? Why is this 6-month grace period never mentioned in the media?

Jan. 15 2014 04:35 PM

Ol' Ed has his PhD in Middle East studies from the Wikipedia School of International Studies.

A true rocket scientist.

RUCB_Alum ~

It's a waste of keystrokes.

Jan. 15 2014 03:18 PM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretenious Hudson Heights


Did Sadaam Hussein ever have and use WMDs?

Yes or No.

Jan. 15 2014 02:32 PM

@Edward from Washington Heights AKA preten(t)ious Hudson Heights

You cannot be serious. Our 2003 invasion was in no way premised by the 15 year old use of WMD! The Bush Administration presented a case for a continuing and growing threat that was simply not true. You should at least be willing to accept it rather than offer such pitiful exceptions.

Jan. 15 2014 01:42 PM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretenious Hudson Heights

RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey said:
ice to the nation.

> (1) Iraq had no substantial WMD or WMD development program

Sadaam Husseins Iraq DID have a WMD program in 1988, poison gas, and used it on the Kurds of Halabja Iraq - 5,000 people died

Iraq and Iran had an 8 year war - 1980-1988 - 1,000,000 people died

Iraq invaded Kuwait - 1990

If only the FAKE anti-war movement would demand of the Islamic Regime of Iran what it demands of the US.

Jan. 15 2014 12:36 PM
john from office

All the crazies came out on this one! Some still fight Nam.

The USA has always restrained itself in modern warfare. We should not and lay these so called "nations" to waste.

Jan. 15 2014 10:41 AM
Soldier's Father from Westchester, NY

@ Wayne Johnson: Amen. And you don't have to go all the way to Arlington -- the cost of the wars can also be seen here in New York, in the fresh graves at Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn.

Jan. 15 2014 10:38 AM

Was Gates the one who convinced Shimon Peres to sell missiles to Iran?

Jan. 15 2014 10:38 AM
emmanuel jamali from westchester

Why did we disavow we are fighting a political war in a humanitarian crisis?

Jan. 15 2014 10:35 AM
Cabeza de Vaca from Gulf of Mexico

Good interview, Brian. You were treading gingerly but elicited some interesting statements. I was hoping you would follow up on his remark abut the country being tired of war with a question about implications for long term downsizing of the military.

Like him or not, Gates was a great improvement over his predecessor and provided a needed stabilizing influence over military affairs.

Jan. 15 2014 10:33 AM
ej from westchester

Why did we disavow we were fighting a political war that is a humanitarian crisis?

Jan. 15 2014 10:30 AM
Wayne Johnson Ph.D. from Bk

I have recently spent some time at Section 60 in Arlington National Cemetery. Secretary Gates is as accountable as any other Bush/Obama cabinet officer for the bodies of those young men and women. He had an opportunity to oppose the surge in both of these obscene wars, but advised otherwise. Rather than thank him for his service we should ask the questions which need to be asked of the men and women that supported Vietnam Parts 2 and 3.

Jan. 15 2014 10:30 AM
Seth Peckstiff

Sorry, Martin, you didn't get your red meat. But don't cry, neither did these other commenters. Let's hear it for a sensible interview on topics that just are not as black and white as we'd like them to be.

Jan. 15 2014 10:26 AM

If Gates was so critical of the president, why didn't he go public during his time with Obama. He should have resigned then as Powell also should have done instead of knowingly defended the administration at the UN. Iraq was unnecessary and both men should have spoken up with their views when it would have been more effective than writing a book after their terms.

Jan. 15 2014 10:23 AM
Robert from NYC

I stand corrected dboy.

Jan. 15 2014 10:22 AM
antonio from baySide

The Iraq war was a coup for the military industrial complex, energy companies and other multi nationals corporations. Just do some reading. Look at all the failures in assessments, but what was solid was all the logistics for rebuilding etc.

What will be interesting in the next election cycle is the fracturing of both parties. The Warren group on the left and the Paul contingency on the right...

Jan. 15 2014 10:21 AM

Iran and Iranians are a more peaceful people, country than the US. How many wars have they started and countries have they invaded, how many wedding parties have they bombed? They should do like Israel and leave the non proliferation treaty

Jan. 15 2014 10:21 AM
Robert from NYC

Diane Feinstein is no longer a "liberal" democrat... anymore? She and her friend Schumer have outlived their usefulness in the Senate as have just about every other senator, with very few exceptions. Time to "enemate" the congress and clean it out completely. Both parties have outlived their usefulness, that is those who were ever useful.

Jan. 15 2014 10:20 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

PLEASE ASK GATES if he thinks Israel can “wait out” Obama, who only has 1101 days remaining, by refusing to accept the bad deal he wants to impose on them …. and punt it to Hillary or a Republican who will be more competent and less hostile to Israel?
Also, could ISRAEL attack Iran late in his term?

Jan. 15 2014 10:20 AM
DogOfTears from NYC

Wait.... there has in fact been commentary from FISA court judge that they were methodically deceived by the NSA, and that it was likely unconstitutional - I believe? Fact-check please....

Jan. 15 2014 10:19 AM

All wars should be about "NOT getting IN"!

Jan. 15 2014 10:16 AM
Robert from NYC

All wars should be about "getting out"!

Jan. 15 2014 10:15 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Mr. Gates describes his thoughts at the time:
"the president doesn't trust his commander, doesn't believe in his own strategy and doesn't consider the war to be his. For him, it's all about getting out."

Comment from Mr. Gates?

Jan. 15 2014 10:12 AM
DogOfTears from NYC

Edward Snowden, "Thank you for your service". Snowden is a whistle-blower.

Jan. 15 2014 10:10 AM

…would this be the same Iran that Mr. Gates was selling arms to as the deputy director of CIA under Reagan??

Jan. 15 2014 10:10 AM
Robert from NYC

Really? "Thank you for your service?" To a Secretary of Defense? Really? I don't think so. It was a paid job, he didn't like, and ....

Jan. 15 2014 10:09 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Will Obama be the one who allows Iran to get nuclear weapons and the warheads and missiles to deliver them to the U.S.?

Jan. 15 2014 10:07 AM
DogOfTears from NYC

Brian! "Thank you for your service to your country" - once again we buy into the national cult of militarism? Why don't nurses, social workers, teachers get this phrase, generally? I think this now-knee-jerk phrase should be critically examined, and not used by journalists - it's not neutral and impartial at all.

This is not directed at Gates in particular, although I'm certainly not a fan. The wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan were and are tragic, misguided wastes human life and US resources.

Jan. 15 2014 10:07 AM

My understanding was that a Boy Scout was to always be "morally straight" and "trustworthy".

Jan. 15 2014 10:02 AM

As a senior CIA liar who was a key organizer of the ILLEGAL selling of arms to Iran (a stated enemy of the United States) in order to finance a COMPLETELY ILLEGAL military action in Nicaragua, it is understandable that Mr. Gates would be frustrated working within the LAW in a more measured environment.

This criminal has ZERO credibility.

Jan. 15 2014 10:00 AM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your service to the nation.

Given that three of the reasons for invading Iraq had been proven false by Inauguration Day 2009, (1) Iraq had no substantial WMD or WMD development program, (2) there was no AQ in Iraq until we invaded and (3) Iraq had no part in planning, financing or carrying out the 9/11 attacks, was the US government justified in attacking, invading, occupying and destroying the infrastructure and government of Iraq?

Ultimately, was the war a 'just cause' or are we collectively guilty of committing a crime?

Jan. 15 2014 09:19 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Please ask him “So why didn’t you ask that they be fired?”

“The details Mr. Gates provides of White House staffers with no military experience micromanaging the military campaign are appalling: exaggerating mistakes, misrepresenting successes, even calling field commanders directly – something that would be a cause for firing in any previous administration.”

WALL STREET JOURNAL review of book

Jan. 15 2014 07:26 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Please ask him to explain:

“He also makes it plain that he disliked the job, which required extraordinary forbearance in dealing with the amateurish Obama White House staff.”

(WALL STREET JOURNAL review of book yesterday)

Jan. 15 2014 06:54 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.