Yesterday, Claremont McKenna students had the privilege of hearing from Dr. Robert Gates, the former Director of the CIA and former Secretary of Defense. Dr. Gates spoke on a wide range of topics, ranging from the current situation in the Middle East, the issues facing America as it goes forward, the rise of China, and his interactions with the many Presidents he has served under.
Dr. Gates brought a particularly moderate approach to his political analysis, taking care not to explicitly deem any one political party or politician as “correct.” In his speech, he simultaneously derided the idea of military intervention in Syria, whilst bemoaning the slow and steady decline of NATO, an organization that he said, “was a huge factor in helping us stay safe in the Cold War.”
Interestingly, Dr. Gates sees China as a potential ally, depending on how its decennial domestic leadership changeover pans out. As he puts it, “there is no fundamental geostrategic reason for China and the United States to become enemies, or for China to overtake the United States.” Dr. Gates did warn, however, that the United States’ actions in certain fields could be its own undoing. In a series of statements that excited each one of the Rose Institute of State and Local Government’s many employees that attended, Dr. Gates attacked the idea of partisan redistricting, praising California’s recent move to an independent and non-partisan redistricting process.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Dr. Gates’ speech was his elaboration on the leadership styles of the various Presidents that he has served under. When asked about whether it was tough to transition from President George W. Bush to President Barack Obama, Dr. Gates merely remarked, “Hey, I’ve dealt with both Carter and Reagan. The most recent Presidents were fine in comparison.” Dr. Gates went on to reveal some lesser known facts about these Presidents, blithely stating that Presidents Nixon and Carter had no sense of humor, and that the raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden was carried out without any hard evidence of his residence available.
Dr. Gates’ offered an extremely realist perspective of current events that could lead itself to a pessimistic view of the world around us. However, he took care to outline the fact that every issue has solutions. In the case of the United States, for instance, Dr. Gates felt that a move away from the partisanship and media bias that pervades our society could act as an instant cure for our domestic problems. Most inspiring, however, were his ending words; “we must learn to tell the difference between real and prescient information, and BS.”