January 18th, 2014
04:44 PM ET

Robert Gates on the biggest threat to U.S. national security

Fareed speaks with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates about Iran, China and what his advice would be to future presidents. Watch the full interview this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

What do you think is the lesson…presidents sometimes write a letter to their successors. If you were to set out a couple of things to worry about or to be focused on, for not just the current secretary of defense but going forward, what are the things that worry you about in the way that Eisenhower wrote about the military-industrial complex? What is it that worries you about America's defense posture and foreign policy?

Well, first of all, I would say that the one piece of advice that I would give, either to a new secretary of defense or to a president is that absent an immediate threat to the United States, the use of military force should be a last resort, not a first option.  We need to be much more careful.

I wrote in my first book that the dirty little secret in Washington was that the biggest doves wore uniforms.  And it's because they have seen the face of war, and they have been thrown into conflicts only to have political support evaporate behind them. And so being very cautious about the use of force, I think is incredibly important.

Right now, the biggest threat to our national security as far as I'm concerned is the paralysis in Washington and the uncertainty with respect to defense programs, uncertainty about what kinds of military capabilities we're going to need in the future...

…Do you think we have to plan for China as a strategic military adversary?

Well, I think our military plans for everything. I think that China is not a military adversary at this point.  I think that the way the Chinese and American leaders deal with each other in the years to come will determine whether or not that becomes the case. But I do think that our presence in Asia is very important, just as our presence in the Middle East is very important, as a deterrent.

Can you envision a scenario where Israeli or U.S. military action against Iran ends well, has the desired effect?

Ends well jumps from the action to...

Politically?

…some period of time beyond that. I think that if there is a military action against Iran, Iran will not just absorb it or retaliate in a cursory sort of way, with a few rockets launched into Israel and maybe a few Hezbollah rockets launched into the northern part of Israel.  I think Iran will retaliate and, moreover, I would say that that would make it inevitable that Iran would become a nuclear state.

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Topics: GPS Show • Military

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Charlie

    wow, this is a shocker!

    January 18, 2014 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  2. Hank

    He's seen it all so I will take his word as gospel. There are far too many loose cannons in our military and government that use military power as their sole source of being. They are the dark and creepy ones that need to be replaced sooner rather than later. Like Gates said, unles there is immediate and present danger to the USA enough with the military force. We are so not needing to define our nation solely by our military capabilities. I swear sometimes that there are some twisted individuals who really do think that military bombardment is just a war "game". Sadly it is not and I would be very, very cautious on taking every word that the intelligence side gives out as total truths. Still have my doubts that it was even Assad's military that fired that chemical war head rocket into that village and I think over time with enough scrutiny others will validate that as well.

    January 18, 2014 at 7:25 pm | Reply
  3. Ruth

    I am glad Mr. Gates came out with the book now instead of waiting ,I am also glad he shook up the politicians in Washington....they need it ,including Mr. Obama....these people are too arrogant anyways...we will become our worst enemy if we do not get Washington to work together and fight the real enemy

    January 18, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Reply
  4. allenwoll

    .
    The enemy is the "bought-and-paid-for" elected politician (Of ANY stripe) AND his Payors.
    .
    The election process MAY be passe - IF we can NOT keep out the organized money ! ! ! - Hey, I like that : "Organized Money" ! ! - The prototype of which is Organized Crime ! !
    ..

    January 18, 2014 at 8:01 pm | Reply
  5. JAL

    What happened to his neck? Is he ok?

    January 18, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Reply
  6. Herb Laub

    I would agree with this assessment–Dr.herbert jay laub

    January 19, 2014 at 2:46 am | Reply
  7. NATO Alliance

    The biggest threat to our national security are the non-alliance countries: China, North and South Korea.

    January 19, 2014 at 6:52 am | Reply
  8. Jeff

    This fellow panders to the audience. He was considerably more hawkish in his interview on FOX.

    January 19, 2014 at 11:05 am | Reply
  9. georgex9

    So, after all, he does think that President Obama has made the right decisions. You wouldn't have heard that without this program. Thanks to GPS where you get the real scope.

    January 19, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Reply
  10. j. von hettlingen

    Robert Gates is one of the most shrewd and pragmatic politicians the US has seen in recent years. Were he 10 years younger, he should run for presidency.

    January 20, 2014 at 9:15 am | Reply
  11. Mohd Ismail

    The biggest threat to US national security is the Pentagon.
    Until the WH does its job of defending the US from attack instead
    of attacking defenceless countries,the US will have many more problems.
    Btw,which country leader in the right frame of mind will contemplate attacking the US?
    China? Russia?These countries will only respond to US initiated strikes .

    July 15, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Reply

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