Robert Gates, the United States Secretary of Defense from 2006-2011, delivered a rundown of the most crucial issues now confronting the country during the annual Westmont President’s Breakfast on Friday.
Gates began his morning talk at the DoubleTree Resort on a light note, explaining how pleased he is to get out of the D.C. daze and into the Santa Barbara sun for a bit. He followed by inspiring plenty of laughs, as well as some murmurs of astonishment, when discussing his time advising eight U.S. presidents. “Perhaps the most egotistical was Lyndon B. Johnson,” said Gates, mentioning that Johnson would belittle those under him.
President Obama awarded Gates the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, when he retired in June 2011. Gates spent over 26 years as an intelligence professional with the CIA, the only entry-level employee to eventually become director. He also served as chancellor of the College of William and Mary and the president of Texas A&M University before becoming Secretary of Defense.
Because of the large amount of time he spent with college students, Gates linked them to the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq he encountered during his work. “[The soldiers] were putting their dreams on hold to protect the dreams of so many,” he said.
Gates segued from the respect he has for Americans serving overseas to his thoughts on foreign affairs. “I believe that political forces have been released in that area that cannot be contained,” said Gates of the Middle East. “Anywhere in the Middle East that you see a straight line, Winston Churchill probably drew it with a ruler in 1930. Whatever happens in the region will play out over time, and there isn’t much outsiders can do.”
The overall gist of his discussion of U.S. involvement with other nations was that there should be less; Gates said that power should not be underestimated. He then directed his attention to China. “There is no fundamental reason for the U.S. and China to be enemies, but if we treat China as an enemy, it will become one,” he explained.
Gates wrapped up his speech by focusing on the key concept of compromise. He said he realizes it may be a “dirty word” to many, but it’s an idea that American government and citizens need to embrace. He said that our prosperity “depends not on what other countries do, but on the decisions we make.”