Gates, who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, said in an online speech to a Florida group that partisanship has always been part of U.S. politics dating back to founders John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, but only recently has that resulted in the government being unable to tackle major issues such as the coronavirus outbreak. He said congressional members fear taking any stand or making any compromise that could harm their re-election chances.
“Because of our paralysis in Washington, we can't tackle successfully any of the big challenges the country faces whether its education, immigration, infrastructure,” Gates told the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, a nonpartisan organization that meets monthly to hear from prominent newsmakers. “They are just too hard for our politicians across the board. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue.”
Gates, 76 and a Republican, served as CIA director from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush and defense secretary from 2006 to 2011 under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. His book, “Exercise Of Power: American Failures, Successes, And A New Path Forward In The New Post-Cold War World,” was recently published.
Gates argues in his book that over the last 25 years, presidents and Congress have allowed the nation’s diplomatic strengths such as developmental assistance, communications and cultural connections wither, leaving the military with a disproportionate role in determining and executing U.S. foreign policy.
Gates has criticized President Donald Trump a divider, domestically and internationally. During Monday's talk he praised Trump as the first president to understand and tackle the threat China poses economically, but said he undercuts his efforts by weakening the country's relationships with its allies, calling those “a unique asset for the United States.”
“We have allies — the Russians and Chinese don't. They have clients,” Gates said. “Those allies are critically important if we want to create an international environment to serve our national interest.”
He also praised Trump for reaching out to North Korea and meeting with Kim Jong-un, saying nothing attempted by previous presidents stopped that country's nuclear arms program. He said Kim fears that if he surrenders his nuclear weapons, he will be toppled. Gates said it might be time to negotiate a deal where North Korea keeps a limited number in exchange for intensive inspections.
Gates also praised and criticized former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump's presumed Democratic opponent in November's election. He said Biden has been wrong on almost every foreign policy and national security issue over the last 40 years, particularly during the 1980s when Biden was in the Senate and opposed President Ronald Reagan's policies toward the Soviet Union.
Still, Gates said despite their broad policy differences, he and Biden had a good relationship during the Obama administration and agreed on such issues as Libyan nonintervention when that country's leader, Moammar Gadhafi, was overthrown and killed in 2011. He called Biden “not only a decent person but a man of real character and integrity.”
He said the Trump administration handed the Chinese and Russians a foreign propaganda coup when it used police and military force to remove protesters so the president could walk to a nearby church to take a photograph.
“Believe me, the videos of what happened that night in Lafayette Square are being distributed all over the world by the Russians and the Chinese," Gates said. The Chinese can now “come back to us and say ‘How dare you criticize our handling of protesters in Hong Kong. Just look at what happened across the street from the White House.’”