tv National Book Festival - Robert Gates Exercise of Power CSPAN September 28, 2020 12:47am-1:29am EDT
♪ >> hello i'm david rubenstein at the library of congress in washington, d.c. as part of the national book festival and we are pleased today to have washington state bob gates who's written a book called exercise from power which i've read and recommend. we are going to talk about this book and a little bit about bob's career. i should point out we worked together along time ago about four decades ago in the carter white house when i was the deputy and bob gates was executive assistant.
so in those days, did you ever think you would become one of the most famous secretaries and have this career, did you ever think about that when you worked as executive assistant? >> we are both in situations today that we never dreamt about in the late 1970s. but i joined the cia in 1966 i was recruited out of the institute in indiana university. and to do my bit in the cold war i never dreamed in those days that i would end up being the director of the cia at the very time the soviet union collapsed. so it was quite a trajectory and nothing i could have ever predicted. a. >> for those that haven't followed his career, he wasn't only the head of the cia but for five years the secretary under
two presidents, bush and obama and texas a and m university for a number of years as well. so, for people that are watching and they say i want to have a career like bob gates, what would you say is advice you can give them, what would you say is the key to what you did in government and after the government collects. >> i think it starts having a passion for what you like to do. of the sad news is you have to do the work preparation to be in the position to be successful but there's no guarantees. at the key is to establish yourself as an expert and very capable in one area and then having done that begin to expand your horizons. there are risks involved and
what most people don't realize is you have to get out of your comfort zone to be successful in public service as well. when i went to the national security council in the last months of the administration my bosses out to cia basically told me there wouldn't be a job for i came back. i took the risks and it worked out okay. the other thing when i became secretary defense and i was looking at people to promote to service secretary in the central command and a salon, i looked for people that had done a number of things and had been involved in doing things with other services and the policy
process. i want to people with of experiences. so i think that is part of the successful career. a. >> in this career that you've had and other things you've done in the government what would you say is the most memorable thing and what is the highlight, the thing you are most proud of having achieved in your public service career? >> those are two different things for me. the most fun and most gratifying or satisfying if you will as i said, having joined the cia at the very height of the cold war to be the deputy national security adviser under the first president bush and involved in the day-to-day diplomacy and
activities in the liberation of eastern europe and the unification over germany, the victory in the cold war, the collapse of the soviet union. all of those things when you went into work every day, you knew history was being made and able to spend two or four hours a day with the first president bush as he was managing all those things at that momentous history was quite extraordinary. i think the most gratifying thing that i did in my public service is when i was the secretary of defense and i was able to do things that helped the troops getting approval and getting the trucks into the field it saved a lot of lives and a lot of lambs. we bought 27,000 of them at the cost. who knows how many thousands of
lives were saved. managing and overseeing the elimination of "don't ask, don't tell." of ththe things i found most gratifying for those that i felt helped the people, the men and women in uniform and of those on the frontlines into being in the position to do something about it and making a difference was extraordinarily gratifying. a. >> i've always assumed one of the difficult things being the secretary defense is to notify the next of kin when someone dies. what is that like facts. >> the way the process works, there is an enlisted person from the service that will actually do the direct notification of the families. so i never had to do that. every night i would write
condolence letters to the families and health write notes on all of that and that was very onerous and emotional for me. from their parents and brothers and sisters and what they had to say about them and whether they were kind of a lost soul and found purpose in the military or whether they joined out of patriotism and so on. so writing those notes was emotional for me. seeing these very fit robust namely young man i saw the first
quadruple amputee in the room with his family and parents. it's where they would be flown from afghanistan and iraq. i think the hardest of all is probably the burn unit. about i also attended quite a number of funerals. i felt it was important to be there to those that have been killed in action and that was very difficult. >> the main theme of the book is after the cold war, the united
states was a dominant military and geopolitical power in the world, and we could have done so many things to improve the world without power, but we chose to use our military power rather than what some have called our soft power and as a result of that it's a war maybe we didn't need to be in but we should have a president that knows how to use soft power as opposed to hard power. is that a fair or inaccurate a summary? >> i think that pretty well captures it. the united states held a degree of monopoly on economic, political, cultural power probably unprecedented since the roman empire around the world. if therthere were two problems. the first president o presidentd
president bush 43 both had a strike in them that they thought the united states should use its power to bring democracy and improve the lives of people around the world. president clinton tried it in somalia to a certain degree in haiti and of those were lessons that should have been learned in the bush administration. after the success in iraq and afghanistan, the administration tried to do the same thing in terms of bringing a better life and democracy and modern government to both countries and if that was the problem. the argument that i make in the book is we had at the end of the cold war dismantled most of the nonmilitary instruments of power
whether it was diplomacy or the international for the development. and the united states information agency was totally dismantled. all of these lo nonmilitary capabilities shrank to almost insignificance. at the same time, we continue to have a strong military emblem of the consequences is that the military over the years was asked to undertake missions that really were not military missions. the military wasn't trained or equipped to do nationbuilding. but the civilian experts were so few in number the tasks fell to the military anyway. so, it led to what i believe is a u.s. foreign policy, and i think that exhausted the patient's of the american people. >> so, it is interesting the person that makes this argument that military power has been over used as a former secretary
defense. one might say somebody like a former secretary of state or who was in charge would have made an argument. do you find that ironic that you are the person making this argument? >> i first make this argument in a speech at kansas state university and fall of 2007 and at thof the process would've trd it as a man fights dogs story. ..
>> and at the same time there were 360 civilians in those teams. that is the disparity we saw secretary of defense we were asked to do something that was not in our wheelhouse. >>. >>host: secretary rumsfeld was the secretary going into iraq and he proposed that and supported it. it did not work as well as he thought it was. you are openly brought in and 2006 as the secretary of defense what's the main thing you tried to do to mitigate iraq and afghanistan and how do those steps work?
>> i became secretary of defense in the middle of two wars and in all honesty, losing both. my primary task was how do we turn around the trajectory? president bush made the courageous decision rather than pull out and let chaos rain to let the us military position with the believe if you can bring greater day today security for the iraqi they were turned to economic development with political reconciliation. the surge did that and it began in early 2007 and then by far we had seen a significant reduction not only our own casualties but in the
security situation in baghdad which would continue. by 2008 we had created the circumstances iraq had a chance to move forward. >>host: why do you think it is we struck down all the nonmilitary powers to emphasize military after the cold war? was it just easier for things were harder? >> i think a big part was political the state department and agency for international development and us information agency had no constituency in congress with the defense department spending hundreds of millions of dollars per
year as i found out the department of defense has contractors in every state and every congressional district i'm sure that's not by accident so you have a built-in constituency public in a democrat for defense of those programs we don't have that support on the civilian side and foreign civilians has long been one of the most unpopular government programs there is. takes leadership to help educate the american people have actively little they cost and appoint i make in the book is in terms of gdp the united states ranks 21st in the world with how much we offered foreign assistance.
furthermore we don't tell anybody about it and that is another problem of that capability but it is the lack of the constituency including the president that for example the agency for international development doesn't do a very good job to select projects and seeing them to completion and accountability. >>host: you talk about in the book exercise of power the president can conduct the orchestra by having all the pieces you talk about come together but unfortunately many have not done that those one or two presidents in a reasonably good to conduct that symphony and who would
they be? >>guest: during the cold war president eisenhower, weekend and first president bush were really good at conducting the symphony. there are specific instances after the end of the cold war were presidents have done a pretty good job of using the soft power to conduct that symphony president clinton's diplomacy in the early nineties his program to forgive the debt of african countries and create trade opportunities with the united states, the columbia initiative that basically prevented narco terrorist from taking over control of the government of colombia
supported by many presidents including clinton sustained under bush and obama and was successful orchestrated by the state department with us military playing a support role. president bush's initiative to deal with hiv-aids was another example to bring together our soft power of the nonmilitary instruments to accomplish objectives serving american interest. >>host: i will ask about two questions of your career. you are minding your own business the chancellor of a very good school and texas where president bush 41 head of the public service school before you became the chancellor. then you got a call to say how about becoming secretary of
defense were you surprised to get the call? did you really want to go back into government? >>guest: january 2005 the white house reached out with after president bush was elected to see if i would become the first director of national intelligence. wrestled with that decision and i turned it down. i told my wife the good news the bush administration but never ask me to do anything again. so i was stunned when i got the call. unlike the director of national intelligence offer, i remember vividly the national security advisor called me on a weekend and said that the president asked you to become
secretary of defense world you do it? there was no hesitation at all progress at all the usual in men women out there fighting and dying how can i not do mine? of course i hung up the phone and i immediately panicked thinking what i would tell my wife about going back to washington dc. there is no hesitation but it was a shock. i had no wrinkling anything like that might happen. >>host: was a shocking a democratic president would say to you i want you to stay on as secretary of defense could historically they leave where you hesitant under the president you didn't know? >>guest: i was very surprised play did not hesitate for the
same reason. we have all those kids out there putting their lives on the line if you think i can help i will do whatever i can. i heard rumors summer 2008 from the mccain campaign and obama camp they might ask me to stay for a little while so there is continuity given the fact we were in the middle of two wars. but it would be a very short period of time. i assumed it would be but then in october before the election a representative of obama reach out asking if i would meet with the president or the senator i said i don't think i can do that before the election properly but i will lay down some questions that i have for him should he be elected and he wants to pursue
this. and to have those questions delivered this is after the election says if we want the answer is in writing? i said is not a test but as a guide for a conversation when we sat down at the reagan national airport he took the list out of his pocket and went down to the questions. >>host: let's go through the situation with say president trump or president biden says to you, you have a distinguished service in your career, you have insights. i could use your insights let's go to the major international challenges the next president will face whoever that is. start with china will show the next president of the united states with the mistakes we
have made would you tell the next president to do with respect to the challenges of china? >> first acknowledgment we're in for a long competition with every facet of power military, economic and political there would be a contest for markets and influence and this is a rifle to go on indefinitely we need to be prepared and have the tools to wage that at the same time president xi the chinese leader has been able to do to bring republicans and democrats together in the congress with an anti- chinese perspective so the one thing the next president has to focus on we are in this rivalry for a long time.
we need to have a peaceful coexistence a cold war with the soviets we have to compete for do everything we can to keep this from being a military confrontation. had we strengthen those instruments of power for our rivalry in a variety of different areas but how do we keep this from getting out of control. >>host: the next president says thank you for your ideas with china but what about russia? getting them out of ukraine and getting them back to the western nations committed to peace and democracy? >> i am afraid i would be a pessimist and say? >> i am afraid i would be a pessimist and say.
it will not happen as long as vladimir putin is president of russia. he will give trouble wherever he can and do whatever is necessary to do that but there are lots of opportunities to exploit our weaknesses and the problems he will never walk that back. so you cannot be naïve or believe as long as he is in power there is a chance for reconciliation he demonstrates how those presidents have tried to work with putin but then he does things that make it very difficult. the more he will ratchet up the question in china the more difficult is to do business with him the more he uses
cyberand i chose to interfere with politics to divide us as a people woman to have a constructive relationship. >>host: do you have any doubt our intelligence sources are to say rush interfered with the 2016 election? >>guest: no doubt in my mind whatsoever. >> what should i do with north korea? there is an easier problem. >>guest: is a right in the book we had four successive presidents try to negotiate denuclearization with north korea. one of the reasons i supported president trumps outreach to kim jung-un that everything else we have tried under the three intercessors have failed why not give this a shot?
i believe north korea will never entirely give up the nuclear capabilities. kim jung-un works at qaddafi siddall never had nuclear weapons ukraine science a deal 1994 in which they gave us 1800 nuclear weapons and exchange of guarantee integrity the united kingdom in russia they lost half their country kim jung-un says why in the world would i give up my weapons it is the only assurance of survival i have some of the president is prepared to bite the bullet to see if we can get complete nuclear station but to a small number of nuclear weapons that allows us to contain the
threat at a low-level that's a tough decision for any president. >>host: is head of caa we surprised we don't have as much intelligence what's going on in north korea as you might expect? we know more than the public thinks we do? >> it's one of the toughest targets in the world and has been forever. employer because of the magnitude of the totalitarian approach. we know a fair amount but the problem is they are toddlers. getting your arms around how many nuclear weapons they have and what they may have hidden in the launchers and the tunnels would be an immense intelligence challenge i
haven't been in government for a dozen years but i would be very surprised if we knew the locations of all of their nuclear weapons were missile systems. >>host: you are not in government when we decided to go into iraq we went in part there was intelligence to have weapons of mass destruction. is that an intelligence failure or the momentum to grow the process of were with respect to iraq that was a mistake in hindsight? >> in the first instance the decision to invade iraq based on incorrect intelligence but not just us intelligence that had it wrong. the only reason the un resolution 1441 past in 2010 unanimously was the
intelligence services of every major country including russia and china thought saddam hussein was working on weapons of mass destruction so that demanded he allow international inspectors to come in. it was an error of all the intelligence services because saddam hussein wanted people to believe he had weapons of mass distraction he wanted his military to believe it and his own people to believe it as well as the israelis. it was a huge strategic mistake on his part there were several occasions in which the invasion was in 199800 president clinton when he and
the british launched a military attack to get international inspectors back into iraq after saddam hussein had thrown them out. they stop the campaign without achieving their objectives. 1998 marks the point the international inspectors were out of iraq and saddam never allowed them back. i argue in the book one thing that could have been done would be to continue the military attacks against iraqi military targets until saddam agreed to let inspectors back in the country. if they are then the magnet had been the questions of weapons of mass destruction push himself at that and elected not to take that kind of approach people argue if iraq was a mistake or not i
believe the biggest mistake was in believing we could change the history of iraq that's the work of decades in the armed forces so those decisions after the invasion were some very bad decisions in that respect and those were the decisions i think were there for almost 17 years. >> so afghanistan the longest war in american history we are still engaged in the war if the next president said i've had enough let's get out what word you tell them about that reality? do you think a peace agreement is realistic where the taliban will not run afghanistan?
>>guest: we have to realize president trump is committed to getting all troops out of afghanistan. the only way to take over afghanistan was the residual american force with what is left are now hoping bf can governmen government. no doubt in my mind given those divisions in afghanistan and with the afghan government, to people claiming to be president and corruption , that once the united states is out it is only a matter of time until the taliban and take over. you can argue and we don't know if the debacle of the reforms that have been put in place the last number of years, but my suspicion is
that at some point in time they will reassert their control i argue in the book we should without january or early 2002. pulled out of afghanistan because of mike iraq at that point, afghanistan had internationally recognized government of all the different factions it had international recognition. commitments for a number of countries for security and development assistance. we could've played a part in that with nonmilitary instruments of power. who knows how that would've turned out. we know the alternative 18
years later. >>host: let's talk about something when we were in the white house, the ayatollah khomeini took over in a very few people in the risk ever even knew what islamic fundamentalism was part of the new president were to come in and say how do i deal with iran? what would you tell them to do? >> the biggest wall with the iranians is it kicked the can down the road ten years and basically he but if we could constrain the iranian nuclear program for ten years then iran will devolve and be a different kind of country ten years later and willing to
forswear to have nuclear weapons at all. that was a big bet. my suspicion is it was wrong. the west position should be iran has to give up their nuclear weapon program essentially forever. in exchange for that, a company very intrusive international inspection efforts to make sure they are not cheating. in exchange we will work away ran back into the family of nations. we lift sanctions. some are still on because elsewhere we meddle in the middle east but it is an agreement that essentially says it isn't just time-limited but open-ended in terms of not having a nuclear program that's in everybody's interest and with the iranians
as well. >>host: to more questions. and in your view if the next president said i need somebody with your experience even part time to advise me or my staff, where you come in part time or are you done with government service? >>guest: i think if a new president thought i could be helpful in the advisory kind of way and on a part-time basi basis, sure i would be open to that the same answer i gave president bush 2006. there's a lot of people on the front lines, the country is in trouble if i can be of any help i will do so but not a full-time position. >>host: final question. since you have service you
been actively involved in many things as the chancellor of william and mary, head of the boy scout scouts, what has been most filling for you since you left government service? which activity has given you the greatest pleasure? >>guest: one of the reasons i enjoy the scouts and william and mary in particular and stay involved is frankly one of the reasons for my long-term optimism for the country. it is the young people that i see like texas a&m. began people i see are very idealistic they went to help and into volunteerism how do you keep them interested after they graduated from college and one of the concerns looking at this behavior right
now beaches and powers there is no sense of responsibility that we are in this together and we have to protect each other. my hope is and the young people can get us back on track without respect. >>host: thank you is an american for your service to our country and the many great things you've done. i enjoy reading this book. i highly recommend and i hope to see you again in person when covid-19 is behind us. thank you very much. >>guest: thank you my pleasure covid-19 is behind us. thank you very much. >>guest: thank you my pleasure covid-19 is behind us. thank you very much. >>guest: thank you my pleasure