Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Defense Secretaries Past, Present and Future - Robert Gates at the MPSF Speaker Series

During Steve Croft's softball 60 Minutes interview with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the President reflected on advice he received from Robert Gates shortly after coming into office:
"I remember Bob Gates, you know, first thing he said to me, I think maybe first week or two that I was there and we were meeting in the Oval Office and he, obviously, been through seven presidents or something. And he says, "Mr. President, one thing I can guarantee you is that at this moment, somewhere, somehow, somebody in the federal government is screwing up."
I expect that Gates was cautioning the new President about the inevitable surprises and disappointments of governance as opposed to how the President used the anecdote in this interview. To whit -  the President used it as a fig leaf to dismissively hide and deflect attention from the politically convenient disinformation campaign orchestrated in his administration and delivered via Susan Rice a few days after the attack on our embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Might have been a good opportunity for a follow up question from Steve Croft as opposed to simply accepting the popular "mistakes were made" non-answer. But I digress...

Regardless how his advice was misused, one of President Obama's best decisions was to keep Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense and avail himself of the benefit of his experience.

Gates has an extraordinary history of public service, including leadership roles in the Air Force, CIA, and serving in the administration of seven presidents. I had an opportunity to hear the former secretary of defense Robert Gates speak in Marin at the invitation of the MPSF Speaker Series. I've been to a few of these events over the last couple of years and always come away impressed (although some more than others).  He spoke for about an hour and then responded to questions gathered from audience.

I thought some of his more interesting comments came during Q&A and I'd share them here.  I do not have the benefit of a recording or transcript - so the comments I am attributing to Gates are from memory and paraphrased.  In no particular order a  few of his thoughts on our presidents, the presidency and challenges that face us:

Monday, January 07, 2013

Chuck Hagel was thinking "out of the mainstream" in February 2003

President Obama stuck to his guns and nominated Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense setting the stage for a bipartisan nomination fight.  As noted in a previous post, some who opposed the nomination are continuing to smear him with unfounded and despicable charges of antisemitism. Of those limiting objections to policy differences, the criticism of choice is that his views are far out of the mainstream of American thought on Foreign Policy:

Senator Lindsey Graham on CNN's "State of the Union":
“I like Chuck Hagel,” Graham began. “He served with distinguish in Vietnam as an enlisted man — two Purple Hearts. But quite frankly, Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking, I believe, on most issues regarding foreign policy."
Bill Kristol:
"In any case, Friedman confirms that on Israel as well, Hagel's views place him out of the policy-making mainstream. Tom Friedman came to praise Chuck Hagel. He may have ended up burying him."
Jennifer Rubin
"He is far out of the mainstream of both parties on everything from Russian anti-Semitism to Hamas to Iran sanctions."
This criticism reminds me of another time that Chuck Hagel was thinking "out of the mainstream" of Foreign Policy thought.  On February 20, 2003 Chuck Hagel spoke at the Landon Lecture Series at the University of Kansas. It is instructive to consider what constituted "mainstream thought" at that moment in time.