Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a persistent critic of the Obama administration on Syria, Iran, Russia and “micromanaging” the Pentagon, had grudging praise for President Barack Obama’s overall restraint on the use of military force during his eight years in office.
“I think that there have been some very real achievements in the military with President Obama,” Gates said Sunday on NBC-TV’s “Meet The Press” program.”
“I think that he has managed a difficult situation where the American people were tired of war — 14, 15 years of war — and how do we conduct ourselves so that we don’t send troops to deal with every single problem around the world,” Gates said.
Gates, a Republican who served as defense secretary for former President George W. Bush and continued into the Obama administration, noted his differences with Obama on Libya and setting a “red line” with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the use of chemical weapons.
“I certainly was opposed to the intervention in Libya,” Gates said. “I said, ‘Can’t I just finish the two wars I’m already in (Iraq and Afghanistan) before you go looking for a third one?'”
“And I frankly think that he’s made several big mistakes on Syria, beginning with the crossing of the red line — first of all, putting down a red line and then allowing, you know, allowing it to be crossed,” Gates said.
“But I think that in terms of not engaging — not sending U.S. forces to deal with every single problem around the world – (that) was a needed antidote to 15 years of war,” Gates said.
At the same time, Gates said that restraint had its downside in encouraging aggression by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Syria, Crimea and Ukraine. “I think it sent a signal that the U.S. was in retreat,” he said.
“It was always going to be complicated to withdraw from those wars without victory without sending the signal we were withdrawing more broadly from a global leadership role,” Gates said. “I think some of the things that have been done have accentuated that impression around the world. And I think Putin felt that he could take advantage of that.”
During the campaign, Gates denounced President-elect Donald Trump as “unqualified” to be commander-in-chief, but he has since met with Trump and reportedly was influential in the choice of ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.
In a September op-ed for the Wall St. Journal, Gates wrote that Trump was “stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform. He is unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.”
In his first post-election interview on Nov. 30 with “CBS This Morning,” Gates changed course and said he was “hoping” he was wrong about Trump. “It’s critical for us now that he is President-elect for him to be successful as president, especially in national security.”
On “Meet The Press” Sunday, Gates was at odds with Trump’s dismissal thus far of the CIA and FBI conclusions that Russia attempted to influence the election by hacking the Democratic National Committee. Gates also said that the Russian hacking appeared to be aimed at hurting the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
Gates, the former CIA Director under President George H.W. Bush, said of the Russian hacking that “I would characterize it as a thinly disguised, covert operation intended to discredit the American election and to basically allow the Russians to communicate to the rest of the world that our elections are corrupt, incompetent, rigged, whatever, and therefore no more honest than anybody else’s in the world, including theirs.”
“Whether or not it was intended to help one another candidate, I don’t know. But I think it clearly was aimed at discrediting our elections and I think it was aimed certainly at weakening Mrs. Clinton,” Gates said.