Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

National Security with Secretary Gates

November 30, 2023
Notes
Transcript
Eric and Eliot welcome former Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director Robert M. Gates to discuss his article in the current (November-December) issue of Foreign Affairs, “The Dysfunctional Superpower: Can a Divided America Deter China and Russia.” They touch on the unprecedented threats (Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, violent Islamist extremism) confronting the United States, the role of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin and their motives for undermining the U.S. led international order, their predisposition to miscalculation, the suitability of the current national security decision-making system for the current moment, the consolidation of the defense industrial base, the damage done to national defense by repeated Congressional failure to pass a budget and reliance on continuing resolutions and gimmicks like the Budget Control Act, and the necessity of national leadership to spell out for the American people the threats to our security and prosperity and the reasons why the costs of preserving the U.S. led order are worth the candle.

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/united-states/robert-gates-america-china-russia-dysfunctional-superpower

https://www.amazon.com/Exercise-Power-American-Successes-Post-Cold/dp/B0862HDR6F/ref=sr_1_1?crid=ZNQW9YTL1GCH&keywords=the+exercise+of+power&qid=1700510748&sprefix=The+Exercis%2Caps%2C203&sr=8-1

https://www.amazon.com/Duty-Memoirs-Secretary-at-War/dp/030794963X/ref=monarch_sidesheet

https://www.amazon.com/Passion-Leadership-Lessons-Change-Service/dp/0307949648/ref=monarch_sidesheet

This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:06

    Welcome to Shield of the Republic, a podcast sponsored by Bole Bulwark and the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia and dedicated to the proposition articulated by Walter Littman during World War two. That a strong and balanced foreign policy is the necessary shield of our democratic republic. Eric Edelman, Councilert, the Center for Teaching and budgetary assessments, a Bulwark contributor, and a non resident fellow at the Miller center. And I’m joined by my COVID written cohost Elliot Cohen, the Roberty Osgood professor of strategy at the Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, and the Arleigh Burke chair and Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Elliott. I hope you’re recovering.
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:51

    Yeah. Well, the truth is, actually, it only lasts about a day, but I am still wallowing in self pity. And so, you know, flowers and, chocolates and all that welcome. I I just wanna say, before you launch into introducing our, terrific guest today that it’s someone whose, career of public service is extraordinary. And on top of that, I happen to know firsthand that he has extraordinary taste in literature, particularly Shakespeare.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:24

    And and I can vouch for the fact that he has extremely good taste in cigars as well. Our our guest is former secretary of defense Robert m Gates who is as Elliott just said, one of America’s most distinguished public servants. Of course, in addition to being Secret Podcast defense. He also was the director of CIA. And for our purposes, he is also a very distinguished author having written two memoirs, one from the shadows, a memoir of his time, at the CIA and as deputy National Security Advisor and Director of CIA in the Bush forty one administration, a second memoir duty about his time as secretary of defense where I was privileged to to serve, with him in the department of defense while he was Secret Podcast, more recently, a book passion for leadership about his experiences of leading large organizations, including tech s a n n m university where he fired a football coach, which unfortunately has become necessary again at at a n m, and most recently has book exercise of power American failure successes and a new path forward in the post cold war world, which was written before Vladimir Putin’s invasion of of Ukraine, but secretary gates has updated that with a terrific article in Foreign Affairs that I commend to all of our listeners.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:51

    It’s in the current issue. It’s called the dysfunctional superpower, Canada divided America, deter China and Russia. Welcome Sifter Gates.
  • Speaker 3
    0:02:59

    Thank you, Eric. And, Elliot. Pleasure to be with you all.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:03

    Mister secretary, let me kick this off by talking a bit about, your article which starts with a very arresting sentence. It says that the United States is facing perhaps the greatest peril it has faced in its history at this current moment. Could you talk a little bit about what made you say that because I know that you are not given to hyperbole.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:28

    Well, it does sound, overly dramatic, but, I then go on to talk about, some realities that, that that are out there people will say, well, how can that be more? How can it be more dangerous than the Cuban missile crisis? How can it be more dangerous in World War two or other events, of recent history. And and the reason that I said that is first of all, for the first time, since the Korean war we face of grassy adversaries in both Asia and Europe. When China has finished its nuclear modernization program.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:10

    Russia, China, and North Korea combined will have probably twice as many nuclear weapons as the United States. We’ve never faced that kind of an an environment before. And in our modern history, we haven’t faced a, another power that has the kind has that rivals us in economic power as well as in scientific and technological will prowess. We also haven’t faced a power that exceeds our capabilities when it comes to strategic communications around the world, especially in the global south, in terms of their development assistance programs, that is, winning the many friends around around the globe despite the problems of Belton Road. And and so we’re we’re facing, an adversary that, you know, the Soviet Union is, as you two know better than anyone.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:12

    The Soviet Union was really the very, unidimensional power. And, you know, as as I think, Dick Cheney or somebody else once described as sort of a gas station with missiles. And, but they were not an economic, technological, or scientific rival to the United States. I think once we sort of got our act together in the early nineteen these technologically, we were always somewhere between five and fifteen years ahead of, the Soviets in terms of the technical sophistication of our, the technological sophistication of our weapons and so on depending on the systems. And and clearly not an economic power.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:57

    One of one of the comparisons that I have that also illustrates the, how complicated the relationship with China is. Our trade with China while it’s down this year. Last year was the largest in in history. It was seven somewhere around seven hundred and twenty billion dollars. Based on what I’ve what I’ve put together, been able to research Jonathan Last sort of semi normal year of the Soviet Union or trade with the Soviet Union in nineteen eighty six was two billion dollars.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:31

    So there’s just this vast disparity in the in the sophistication and the breadth of of power that we’re dealing with with China, but it’s also this tacit alliance, and sometimes not so tacit among among Russia, China, Iran now and and North Korea. So that’s why I say that I think we we haven’t faced such peril. And I guess the other side of that coin is that in the face of these, concerns, the United States, seems to be semi paralyzed. Or as I as the article’s title puts it dysfunctional. We have not had a defense budget approved by the beginning of the fiscal year, in fourteen years.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:24

    We have had continuing resolutions that have huge consequences in terms of pursuing our programs, our developments. We have so many new initiatives now in the defense department. So many new technologies that we wanna apply and yet we can’t get a budget. So you have all these members of Congress making all these tough sounding, pronouncements about defense and so on. But where are they when it comes to just voting out a defense budget?
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:51

    And so I think it’s a combination of all of those things at a minimum that that led me to to the, rather dramatic opening of that article.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:02

    And the other thing you say before I kick it over to Elliot is that in terms of our two major adversaries, Russia and China, we’re facing leaders of Xi Jinping and and Vladimir Putin, who both seem as you argue, wedded to restoring, what they perceive to be the lost past glory of their respective countries, but also seemed seemed to be, joined in the judgment that the United States and the Western democracies are in decline, and the combination of those two things has led both of them to, be, you know, serial miscalculators, which, makes this a particularly dangerous moment Is that a correct assessment of how you see them?
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:51

    Yes. I mean, part of the problem is that both now are have assumed really, singular power in each of their respective countries They each have this sense of personal destiny. They share, this narrative of Western decline. And they they just, they both made big miscalculations. One, on in Putin part, obviously, is the invasion of Ukraine in twenty twenty two.
  • Speaker 3
    0:09:27

    Although, he seems to believe that at this point, he can outlast the west and so on, but the costs to Russia, in many ways, no matter how things turn out in Ukraine, he has mortgaged Russia’s future. Somewhere we don’t really know, but somewhere between five hundred thousand and a million young Russians have left the country many of them tech experts, entrepreneurs, free thinkers, so on. Western companies have divested out of Russia. And the truth is, while oil and gas is still the primary. Mover of their economy without Western oil companies technology older Russian fields and very difficult to access new fields really can’t that can’t happen without access to Western technology.
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:23

    The Chinese have nothing to offer, in this. So whatever happens in Ukraine, Putin has sort of mortgaged, Russia’s future. So a big miscalculation. I think I think, Xi Jinping’s miscalculations. His first big miscalculation actually was when he became, general secretary, and he decided to abandon, deng xiaoping’s dictum about high, hide your strength and bide your time.
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:54

    The notion that China should gather its strength become more and more powerful, become rich before it openly challenged the United States, for fear that it would provoke a US reaction and rearmament and actions against China and so on. Xi Jinping paying abandoned that, unlike his two, predecessors after Dong And and it’s had exactly the consequence that, that dung feared, of provoking not just the United States, but other powers around the world as well. So that was his first big miscalculation. The second miscalculation, his turn was his turn to the left economically. Around two thousand and fifteen, which has only accelerated.
  • Speaker 3
    0:11:41

    And it has had the consequence of putting China in the bind economically that it’s in right now. And, you know, I think I think most people agree. China’s going through some tough times economically, and probably one of the reasons she It’s on this charm offensive that we saw, APAC and and so on, but the reality is the by inserting party members onto the boards of companies by by, putting controls and strictions on, high-tech companies, and the entrepreneurs who founded them they basically, are strangling the golden goose, that has fueled China’s economic rise. So He’s and he’s so and and and at the recent party Congress, he he kinda doubled down in terms of more emphasis on state owned enterprises and and and really top priority for party control over economic prosperity. And so I think those are examples of the miscalculations that these two leaders have have made.
  • Speaker 3
    0:12:56

    And and for me, that creates the worry that without any with because as I say, they’re both cocooned by Yes men, the risk of another miscalculation, whether it’s in Europe for for Putin or whether it’s in Asia and Taiwan for for, she. I I think is a real concern. That doesn’t mean she’s gonna, turn around and invade Taiwan. I don’t think that at all. But there are lots of ways in which can bring pressure on Taiwan that, don’t involve, a direct military assault on the island.
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:34

    And, you know, if you just look at the tensions with the Philippines, with the Philippine Navy and the second Thomas Scholl and so on, the the Chinese are being very aggressive in the South China Sea, and there there’s a great potential for an incident there.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:50

    Mister secretary, lots of questions I’d like to ask. But let me, begin by drawing on your knowledge of the inner workings of the United States government over quite a long period of time. So, you know, you’ve said and, this is something that Eric and I talk about all the time on the podcast, United States now faces multiple challenges in different parts of the world, whether it’s Russia, Ukraine, now Middle East, which we don’t seem to be able to leave, even though we’d like to, obviously, the the Indo Pacific. And, I guess the the question that I have has to do with your judgment about whether the basic efficiency or effectiveness of the US government at the top, the national security council system, is diminished from what it is was, the same as what it was. How capable are we of multitasking as a government.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:48

    Because it seems to me that’s that’s really the challenge one of the main challenges ahead. You know, they’re I think the last three administrations all wanted to turn to the end of Pacific. They realized that they can’t do that. They’ve actually got to engage in Europe. They’ve got to engage the Middle and Persian Gulf.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:04

    And of course, they have to engage in the endo Pacific. So how as the Brits would say fit for purpose, would you say the American National Security Decision Making System is, and has it changed during the time that you’ve been been in government and served it and and why?
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:22

    Well, I think that, first of all, I described in in my book duty, I described the the National Security process, as as a as a giant funnel sitting over the, table in the situation room. And you’ve got between the department of defense, the department of state, and others, you got two or three million people putting information and problems into the top of that funnel. And and it comes out in a very narrow aperture over the situation room table. And it’s the same eight to ten people who deal with everything that comes through the funnel. So you’ve basically got the president, the vice president, the secretaries of state and defense, the national security adviser, the chief of staff, the director of National Intelligence, the director of CIA.
  • Speaker 3
    0:16:23

    And that’s about it. And and and all of them have to, be engaged in all of these problems. So I think there’s always a question of bandwidth of how much, a given set of people can deal with all these problems at the same time with any other things that I wrote in the book was exhausted people make bad decisions. And, you know, and I’m not saying that they’re making any bad decisions, but I think Tony blinking probably hasn’t slept in his own bed in five weeks or six weeks. He’s been on on an airplane really all over the world.
  • Speaker 3
    0:17:05

    And and, Lloyd Austin, that defense, kind of the same way. Lloyd’s in Ukraine this morning. And so I I do worry about bandwidth, but I would then go back to as an example, the the first bush administration where I had direct experience for the pretty much the whole thing. You know, we handled the liberation of Eastern Europe, the reunification of Germany, the collapse of the Soviet Union. The, the Iraq war, the first Iraq war.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:42

    Panama.
  • Speaker 3
    0:17:43

    Well, Panama, twice. And and so, you know, it wasn’t like we were sitting on our hands. And and so I I think to get at your point, Elliot, I think that the structures are okay. I’m not sure that, I mean, The National Security Council structure that exists today is essentially the same one that Brent Skokroft and I, created in nineteen eighty nine. And and I don’t know a better way to do that, structurally.
  • Speaker 3
    0:18:22

    So I think, you know, I I think that I think it has been fit for purpose through some very difficult times. And through administrations that have dealt with a lot of different problems at different times. But there is there is I think hardly any question and it kinda goes to the point of my article. We have not faced aggressive adversaries in both Europe and in Asia, since the Korean war. And and so And and now we have the Middle East, then we have all kinds of thing, all kinds of other problems.
  • Speaker 3
    0:19:01

    I mean, people aren’t isn’t in the headlines, but what’s going on in Sudan, what’s going on in elsewhere in Africa right now has a very serious consequence for the future and for refugee flows, for, success of terrorism, and, I mean, it just goes on and on. And and, the question is how much can the same set of people deal with effectively? And I I think that remains to be seen.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:28

    You know, just one additional thought before, go back to Eric. I think one other dimension of that is that, unfortunately, often, our, rivals or in some cases, enemies don’t have as many things as that they have to worry about. As American leaders. And one thing that always struck me just observing you and Secret Podcast is everything ended up on your plate one way or another. And I’m not sure that that’s true for a lot of other countries.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:57

    Now, you know, they have they have other kinds of troubles, but the result is that there can be a kind of focus sometimes. I I suspect we find difficult to sustain.
  • Speaker 3
    0:20:06

    Well, one of the consequences of and I I’m not sure whether it’s bandwidth or a lack of priorities or whatever. But, I mean, there are a couple of areas in which the Chinese are really excelling, particularly in the global south, where I think we’re way behind the power curve. And partly it’s because we we have the potential to compete effectively, but we’re just not structured and organized or giving the priority to things like strategic communications, and, and sec and development assistance. You know, the I mean, and and trade. You know, trade has become anatha.
  • Speaker 3
    0:20:51

    Trade agreements have become anathema in Washington to both parties. China today is the major trading partner of more than a hundred and twenty countries. They own and invest in or operate a hundred ports in sixty different countries, including a couple in the United States. Hu Jintao before Xi Jinping came into power, allocated seven billion dollars to create a global commune strategic communications capability. And there isn’t a country on the planet that doesn’t have access to Chinese internet, radio, television, meet, and media of all kinds.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:30

    Social, social networks and so on. And and, you know, we don’t have anything to compare with that. You know, I think they built at one point something like five hundred Confucius institutes around the world, including think eighty five or eighty seven here in the United States alone at universities. They were supposedly teaching Mandarin, but they They also were monitoring the behavior of, Chinese students studying at those universities. And also, I think, probably served as places where, Chinese espionage could take place.
  • Speaker 3
    0:22:04

    So part of my concern is that we’re we’re not using all the tools in the national in the national security toolkit as effectively in many ways as the Chinese are. And and we shouldn’t try to duplicate or compete head to head with them in those things. We have our own assets and our own capabilities that are in some ways better than what the Chinese have, but we’re not structure to deal with it on strategic communications. We have fourteen cabinet departments and forty eight agencies. With international strategic communications.
  • Speaker 3
    0:22:46

    And who’s in charge of all that? Who ensures an integrated mess that they’re all saying the same thing or making the same points as they go around the world. There’s just no integration of it, and that’s what the n s c frankly is supposed to do.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:01

    We haven’t even been able to do that with the radios in in the US government.
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:06

    So but we’ve been fighting the radios have been involved in internal fights at least since the Carter administration, because I remember when I was working for Brazinsky, and we were dealing with the board for internet on broadcasting, and they were all in each other’s throats.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:21

    I wanna stick on this theme for just a minute more, mister secretary, if we can, because I quote you all the time. As saying that the typical inter agency meeting begins with the department of state saying we need to use military force to solve this problem department of defense saying, no, that’s the wrong answer. We need covert action, and the CIA saying, well, actually, we need more diplomacy. And it’s both funny, but it also captures, you know, a reality about the inter agency process. And at least in my experience,
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:50

    Well, I would correct you only to this extent, Eric. What what I generally say is the state department, as you said, state department says military force the defense department says, no. We need diplomacy. And they both can agree. Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:24:05

    No. Well, what we need is covert action. And, of course, it almost never works. Because because they wanna change something like a week from Thursday.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:13

    I so I take the point. And, I guess the the thing that strikes me is, and that I wrestle with is that, when we were working together, in DOD during the surge in Iraq, for instance, and dealing with Afghanistan. Part of successful counterinsurgency, of course, is both unity of effort across the government and, you know, getting the whole government involved because a lot of the issues that we were wrestling with were things like agriculture in Afghanistan that could be sustainable. And and obviously those were things that weren’t in the province of department of defense or department of state for that matter or aid given all the restrictions Congress has created over aid over the years. And with China, there’s this whole notion of all of society that China, as you were saying, has been able to mobilize this incredible communications apparatus, And what I wrestle with is we have a government that was set up by our founders, you know, specifically to prevent all of society or all of nation you know, enterprises from being created.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:21

    So, you know, is there a way to square the circle? I mean, you’re right. We need to use all the arrows in our quiver, and we’re not doing it, but how can we do that without running afoul of, you know, our political traditions and and norms?
  • Speaker 3
    0:25:35

    Well, I mean, the three of us are all old enough to remember that actually we did it quite effectively, during the cold war. Our strategic communications under USIA was extraordinary. From everything from people to people exchanges, cultural exchanges, USIA libraries in every major city in the world. The radios were a very effective VOA had a global audience and and still does for that matter. But we had radio for Europe and, radio liberty and and so on.
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:09

    We had a very effective, strategic com national strategic communications, structure and, and and it operated effectively. And it was created under president Eisenhower. And and then flourished under, under president, Kennedy when he had the Edward r Murrow at the head of it, And then, on a and then under president Reagan when he had Charlie Wicken charge of it, and it was very effective around the world. Same thing that we had with AID, during the Eisenhower Harris Kennedy Johnson and and Reagan administrations, Nixon and and Thor, Reagan. And and, of course, we had the advantage that we were competing against the Soviet Union.
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:00

    Which was just not as effective in these areas and had much less to offer. They did have an ideological approach that had some, audience in, particularly in the countries emerging from the colonial era and and their anti colonial credentials, if you will, were were very appealing in a lot of countries. So we did have that to have to operate against. But my point basically is, we have we pretty effectively used all the instruments of power during the cold war, and we dismantled them all after the cold war. USIA was eliminated in in nineteen ninety eight by the Congress.
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:45

    That Congress wanted to eliminate USAID and president Clinton finally persuaded him to at least keep it alive and subordinate it to the Department of Defense. I mean, Department of State, but, you know, we basically took all those resources away after after the end of the cold war as sort of the same way we did in significant elements of the defense department, capabilities. So I think I think I think we have a precedent on how these institutions, and capabilities can be used in ways that are both effective and well within the parameters of of the constitution and protecting the Liberty and privacy of Americans. I mean, all along, there were very strong strictures for USIA about anything that would bounce back into the US and look like trying to influence the American people. And and, and so I think those kinds of strictures can can continue to be applied today.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:55

    I have to say this conversation, e by even by the standards of shield of the Republic, have been somewhat disheartening. But so I’d like to maybe,
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:08

    you know, most conversations in which I’m involved. It makes more around the cocktail hour.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:16

    So I I was wondering maybe I could draw you out, and and the way it ties into what you were just saying, you know, the the I think there’s a book somebody, wrote, in fact, and I think it was my colleague, Michael Mandelbaum, and, Tom Friedman, that used to be us. You know, that, the idea that the United States has sort of lost its capacity to do some of those kinds of things. And I was wondering if you could address those some of those kinds of arguments, whether you think, look, this is just a question of getting the right sort of president with the right sort of advisors or have there been things that have changed structurally in a way that make it harder for us to do it? And then the the second part of it if you would would be if you could talk about some of our innate strengths, which perhaps we don’t fully appreciate or we don’t tap adequately, but that we could.
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:12

    I think a part of it is personalities you know, I think we could do a we could do a lot better. In these areas, of development assistance and strategic communications. If we if we just had, somebody in the very top ranks of the government who’ve thought it was a priority worth spending some time on. And and, you know, you don’t have to go back to Congress. To get those agencies to collaborate, on strategic communications.
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:55

    There’s a lot of capability out there. The Department of Defense spends about a billion dollars a year on communications, strategic communications. So it’s not that you have to go back and do any kind of major restructuring. It’s just a matter of getting our act together. And and having some cohesion in terms of how the place gets run.
  • Speaker 3
    0:31:15

    My one of my one of my examples, and, you know, whether it would apply to Teige communication is about, I don’t know. But one of the one of the examples of an immensely effective federal program that actually ended up having bipartisan, congressional support was president bushes, Bush forty threes, Pepfar program to deal with AIDS in Africa. And and he didn’t restructure the government to take care of that. What he did was basically appoint a coordinator at the department of state and essentially told the entire rest of the government every budget proposal having to do with a I d with AIDS, HIV AIDS, has to go through this person. And it has to be part of a coordinated effort that’s integrated across the government so we know what we’re doing, and they put in place programs that involved localization in Africa and all kinds of things.
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:12

    It really worked. And it probably saved. I think the conventional wisdom is twenty five million plus lives. You didn’t have to restructure anything. And the Congress because of the way president Bush set it up, and there was accountability.
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:28

    There was bipartisan support, and the Congress voted tens of billions of dollars for this program over the last, several administrations. And and so there’s an example of how you can do something really effective without up, turning upside down, the government bureaucracy, the government’s, structures, So I would point to that Elliot as one positive aspect about what America can do when it puts its mind to something and gets organized. Another success that also was driven by the Department of State, at least I think it was a success, was Plan Columbia. And particularly in dealing with the the gorilla problem didn’t solve the gr the drug problem, but it certainly helped deal with the gorilla problem in the civil war in Columbia. That had really bad potential.
  • Speaker 3
    0:33:20

    And again, another program that got its start I think under president Clinton and was continued by several successive presidents of both parties. So these are examples of that show we can make these things work with the right leadership and the right policies and so on. I think I think one of I mean, I think our basic greatest strength, you know, you asked about broad strengths of America. I think it is It is clearly our economy and our entrepreneurial spirit and the opportunity that it offers people, to, to be successful. You know, we are the only country in the world that has a huge problem with people trying to break in.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:11

    And and it’s a huge problem. I mean, we always used to joke the Soviets built walls to keep people in, we’re if we’re building a wall, it’s to keep people out. And and so you know, there’s a reason all those millions of people want to come to the United States. They see this as a place where you can make a better life for your family despite all of our problems and all of our, political divisions and so on. And and those are very real and and you see the consequences of that, I think, most especially in the Congress, but, but I think that’s our our greatest strength.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:49

    And you know, in some ways, our extraordinary freedom, can be a problem as we’re seeing in some of the things that are on social media and so on. But I don’t know anybody. Well, that’s probably not true, but I don’t think there are very many people who would wanna give up those freedoms so I I think there are enormous strengths here in this country. I think there’s some additional latent strengths. I mean, Everybody jokes about or not jokes.
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:19

    Everybody talks about universities being too woke about university experience not being worth the cost and so on. Well, maybe if you’re a history major like I was, but if you’re an engineer, a college education is worth every dime you spent for it. And and our universities are still the finest in the world, and they are so still at the cutting edge of research in virtually every field. So I think there are a lot of strengths here, LA. It, the part of the problem is you don’t hear our political leaders talk about them very often.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:52

    As a fellow history major, I feel you, mister Secret Podcast know, I you’re you use the example of Pepfar, which is, you know, I think to the argument of your article about our dysfunction. Of course, the Congress of the United States seems hell bent on snatching, you know, defeat from the jaws of victory by defunding Petfar. And in the article, you talk about the severe and long lasting consequences of the budget control act, which of course came into play just. I think in your last year, as as secretary
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:31

    say about four or five months after.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:33

    Oh, just after you left. So you saw this, you know, sort of coming and and, you know, I and other colleagues spent a lot of time in twenty fourteen in the national defense panel at twenty eighteen and the national defense strategy commission inveighing against the damages that had been wrought by by BCA, and yet the Congress looks like it’s headed back to doing that again. If they don’t get all twelve appropriations bills passed by December thirty first, which seems, you know, the chances of that are vanishingly small. There’s gonna be a one percent haircut across the federal budget, including defense, which when you build in, you know, four percent inflation or three and a half percent inflation means essentially a four and a half percent cut, to the budget in the face of all the things you’ve spent the earlier part of this conversation talking about. Do you wanna comment at all about what those kinds of cuts do?
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:28

    To our readiness and to, the ability to manage the the department from from the point of view of someone who had to do it.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:36

    So we’ve had huge problems with, naval accidents, airplane accidents, combat aircraft aircraft accidents, with, maintenance issues, over the last decade or so, in the military. So when the military, when the budget control act was passed, it cut the budget by one point two bill trillion dollars. At that point, the depend Department of Defense represented fifteen percent of federal expenditures. And took a fifty percent cut of the of the sequestration of one point two trillion dollars. I never under that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:23

    I never understood why the Republicans went for it. That kind of a disproportionate cut to defense, but it was even worse. Because all personnel expenses were exempted. It’s very difficult to cut long term procurement contracts. So where did six hundred billion dollars worth cuts come, primarily in maintenance operations and training.
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:46

    The the point of the spear, if you will. And we’re paying the price for it a dozen years later, still paying the price for it, and they’re about to do it again as you just said. And I don’t know, for those who purport to believe in a very strong defense. And there’s a lot of them in the house of representatives as well as in the senate. How they do not put two and two together and understand the the operational consequences of the actions or inaction that they take, is a mystery to me.
  • Speaker 3
    0:39:23

    Because on the one hand, they’ll make those individuals Will Saletan speeches about how far behind we are in defense and how we need to do more and how the Chinese are getting ahead of us and so on and so forth, and the rhetoric is powerful. And then they turn around and vote for these idiotic budget solutions that that make no sense at all. And it’s and it’s because, I think, they don’t have the political will or the political courage to attack some of the fundamental budget problems including entitlements, but not just entitlements. But also to make thoughtful decisions about about what what is cut. You know, we when in two thousand and nine, I cut thirty six programs.
  • Speaker 3
    0:40:16

    That had they been built to completion would have cost the taxpayers three hundred and thirty billion dollars. We were able to do that because we sat down and went program by program. And and we had things that just didn’t make any sense anymore, but nobody had been willing to take them on because they all had congressional sponsors. So one of my favorite examples was we cut the the airborne chemical laser to try and go after, enemy missiles on the launch pad or in the boost phase. Well, that chemical laser was a great idea, and it was mounted in a seven was going to be mounted in a seven forty boeing seven forty seven jumbo yet.
  • Speaker 3
    0:41:01

    There’s only one problem. The chemical laser had a range of sixty miles. So you’d have to orbit a seven forty seven over Iran, over Russia, over China, to be able to go after any of their any of their missiles. So we we did that. There was another program that was in the fourteenth year of a five year development program, and it just kind of on and on like that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:41:24

    So there there are places where you can make cuts that make sense and and and can allow the better investment of money. But but these sort of broad sweeping, percentage cuts that cut everything. As you just put it the haircut, I’ve always considered when when we were told that the budget was gonna be cut, and I’m talking about when I was in the intelligence community, and when I was at the NSC, and and and then the defense. We were told, you know, the budget’s gonna be cut by x percent. I always thought, and the and the leadership of the agencies would come down and say, okay.
  • Speaker 3
    0:42:05

    We gotta cut this across, and we’re gonna cut it across the board. I always thought That was the essence of managerial malfeasance and, cowardice. Because it meant you’re you’re afraid to offend somebody by saying your program doesn’t measure up. And so we’re gonna make some choices. We’re gonna make some hard choices here.
  • Speaker 3
    0:42:26

    Rather than weaken everything, we’re gonna eliminate a few things. And and the Congress doesn’t give these these sweeping things like the sequestration and the Budget Control Act. Don’t give the the managers in the government the opportunity to make intelligent and thoughtful decisions. They weaken everything at the expense of what’s really important and what’s really good. So you know, enough of my rant, but I’ve I’ve watched this and it frustrates me beyond words because it is it is just, it It’s what you get when a lot of people who’ve never run anything are making decisions about how to fund things.
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:08

    It’s also the case. In your case that you tried to do that in the Department of Defense with a deal, with the director of OMB that you would get to keep savings and reinvest them more productively in the Department of Defense only to have them welch on the on the deal.
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:23

    Yeah. That was the separate. That was a year later when when we tried to cut overhead. And we actually identified, I think a hundred and ninety mil billion dollars in overhead cuts. But the deal that I got, and a hundred billion of that was by the services.
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:39

    And the deal I got frankly with both the president, and this was president Obama, and the director of OMB was that if the services, I I was willing to give back the eighty five or ninety billion dollars from the defense department outside of the military depart outside of army air force, navy, and and so on, man, Marine Corps. But I got their agreement that if the services identified weapon systems and military capabilities, that would really strengthen our country. They could have part of the money back. They could have the money back. And as you say, it it and that’s how I got them frankly to volunteer to cut a lot of things.
  • Speaker 3
    0:44:26

    I mean, we cut a combatant command. That was the first and only time in history. We ever cut a combatant command. And so people made a lot of tough decisions to get to those numbers because they were told they could invest it in something smarter and something that would actually strengthen our country. And and then the White House welsh on the deal.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:47

    Could I ask a a a question, which is a bit along these lines, but which is more about defense acquisition. So When I first met, Eric Edelman, it was in, during the Bush forty one administration. I was a a really lowly functionary. He was, clearly, you know, points for a meteoric rise to the top.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:06

    Equally low level functionary.
  • Speaker 2
    0:45:09

    Oh, well. I I didn’t know the difference. But but, you know, I I one thing I remember is the consolidation of the defense industry, which was seemed to be a good thing. I mean, we’re We are all old enough to remember when there was a lockheed, and there was a Martin Marietta, there was a Northrop, and there was a Grumman as well as lots of other companies that no longer, exist. And I think one concern that a lot of people have expressed is now that you have only few really big primes, that the defense acquisition system is simply not agile enough for a world in which technology is changing rapidly.
  • Speaker 2
    0:45:51

    I think case in point, is being able to mass produce drones. Now there’s some areas where it turns out, we we can speed things up. I think they by administration gets credit for, I think, we’re gonna go, like, from fourteen thousand one hundred fifty five millimeter shells a month up to a hundred thousand, by, early twenty five. But Do you think that there is a serious issue with how the defense industry is structured and how responsive it can be? Because And the reason why I think this this is not just sort of wonky insider baseball.
  • Speaker 2
    0:46:28

    If we are indeed in a much more perilous world, which you know, I we we all agree on that, and wonder which war really is possible then presumably you need a defense industrial base that can act react a lot more quickly that can produce at scale when you need it. Could you comment on that and what do you think is is needed to put us in a reasonable posture?
  • Speaker 3
    0:46:54

    Yeah. I think you know, everybody, as as as the old saying goes, hindsight is perfect, but, I mean, that consolidation and looking back, you know, I’m not sure I I know that it was encouraged during the Clint administration, but the truth is I’m not sure as time went on where it wouldn’t have happened naturally. As as the contractors went to sort of just in time production and various other things. I’m not sure we wouldn’t have ended up where we are. Anyway, and but I think it’s a bad place to be.
  • Speaker 3
    0:47:32

    And when you’re only when you’re totally dependent on a handful of of, contractors, in essence, they they often have the whip hand, in the relationship. And And and I think but part of it also is I think government policy. So we never encouraged industry to build a production capacity, for example, for the one fifty five millimeter artillery shell that we now know we need. And we’re gonna need in the future. And but it’s gonna be on standby.
  • Speaker 3
    0:48:14

    You know, we’ll we’ll end up with a huge stockpile and we’ll end up with a production capacity that maybe five years from now. We’re saying, why do we have all that capacity? And it’s the same way with shipyard maintenance. I mean, we need we desperately need more, shipyards, bigger shipyards, so that we can catch up on the on the production rate, for example, for the Virginia class submarines and but but other ships as well. And and and particularly as long as we can’t use anybody else’s shipyards other words, I don’t know why we don’t do more maintenance if you will in the shipyards of some of our allies.
  • Speaker 3
    0:48:58

    Like South Korean, which has an extraordinary ship building, and maintenance capability. So if you wanna make the manufacture of worship. You wanna keep that in in the con in the US, fine. But how about doing some of these other things elsewhere? So that we don’t have a third of our nuclear submarines waiting for maintenance, the attack submarine.
  • Speaker 3
    0:49:20

    So I I think part of it is what industry has done, but a big part of it also has been government policy and an unwillingness on the part of government to pay these industries to have standby capabilities and and capabilities that were that you could greatly expand. It also has that that consolidation. It’s it’s conventional wisdom now. That it makes it very hard for, high-tech startups or or small companies with or even medium sized companies with great ideas to get past this valley of death beyond just the depend defense department paying for tests, but not being willing to front the money for large scale production, for these companies. And they’re operating on very thin margins, and so they don’t have the capacity on their own, to make those investments like the big companies do.
  • Speaker 3
    0:50:20

    And and so and again, that’s part of a how do you fix that? And I think that’s where you need help from the Congress. Because you’re basically taking some risk. And and the whole acquisition process that we have, I think, is, is very risk averse. And and so I mean, there are examples where there has been an expansion of the defense industries, for example, SpaceX.
  • Speaker 3
    0:50:56

    So we have over the last dozen, ten years or however long that period. We’ve basically our new space command, a space force is essentially handing over production of, large scale missiles to a private company, and they’re new to the business. And they’re doing really well. But, so there are some examples of where, the the defense industry family has been expanded, if you will. But it’s too hard to break into the family at this point.
  • Speaker 3
    0:51:30

    And and so the answer that a lot of people have is they’ll tell a startup. Go Ally with one of the major contractors because they know how to play the game. Both in the Pentagon and in the Congress. And that’s not really a satisfactory solution.
  • Speaker 1
    0:51:46

    Mister secretary, we’re coming up on the end of our time together with you. You have written about leadership. You’ve observed it up close and you’ve done it yourself. It in a variety of settings. And you quote in the article, president, Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, as saying that one of the, primary, responsibilities of a statesman is to educate the public, and you suggest in your article that there has been a a kind of across the board failure of leader both in the executive and the legislative branches over a period of time.
  • Speaker 1
    0:52:27

    With regard to educating the American public, both to the level of the threats that we face that you outline in the article, but also, the benefits of American leadership globally, that we have enjoyed, over the last seventy five years. And you make the point that this can’t be, you know, a one, speech from the Oval Office. This has to be kind of by dint of repetition, something that is, kind of Jonathan Last reiterated to the public. What what in your view should the message, from the leadership be? What, how would you, you know, capture the the essence of the message?
  • Speaker 3
    0:53:11

    Well, I think the core argument, is why our our global leadership is a vital American interest, why it serves our national interests, that this isn’t some kind of altruism on the part of the United States with respect to the rest of the world. But why it matters for our own security and kinda never mind that in two thousand fourteen, nobody ever thought anything would that was going on in that European war would affect us or in nineteen thirty eight, nineteen thirty nine, whether in manchuria or in Eastern Europe, what the Germans and the Japanese were doing would have any consequences for the United States or or what some guy named Ben Laden was doing in Sudan and then in the Afghanistan stand. I mean, we’ve just kinda been through this over and over and over in modern times of of this failure to understand that, why why the why what happens abroad matters to us. And I would I think it’s and not not just an argument about our own national security. It’s also about our prosperity.
  • Speaker 3
    0:54:28

    I mean, the reality is, and I often thought that one place where the executive branch missed the boat under multiple administrations was not kind of keeping book congressional district by congressional district of where of the consequences of international trade. So, for example, going to a rural community in Kansas and saying, do you realize how much wheat or soybeans you sell to, you name the country. And and how so many districts in this country are dependent on international trade or where large numbers of jobs depend on on on, on international trade. And I it’s a m it’s a more sophisticated argument than it’s just our national security. It’s it’s our it’s our prosperity.
  • Speaker 3
    0:55:23

    It’s it’s our long term opportunities as well as as protecting ourselves. And I just think You know, and an FDR was so eloquent and so smart about the way he would use analogies. And, you know, the whole lend lease thing and using the example of would you lend your neighbor a fire hose if his house was on fire? And and which is kind of what we’re doing with Ukraine. And and, so I I think it this is an argument that that I don’t I don’t hear anybody making that kind of an argument.
  • Speaker 3
    0:56:02

    To the American people, or even to their own constituents, really, that kinda gets into something they can identify with, something that’s not kind of at the forty thousand foot level. But here’s what here’s why it matters to our state or to our our congressional district, where you live and bringing it home to people in a personal way that that sort of broad rhetorical flourishes just don’t accomplish.
  • Speaker 1
    0:56:29

    You know, I’m struck by, something, you know, you made a joke earlier about, the two of us big history majors. When I was an undergraduate, I remember being taught that, when president Truman was about to give the Truman doctrine speech, again, to to the point of your article when there was still bipartisanship in foreign policy. And Arthur Vanderenburg told the president, mister president, you have to go out and scare the hell out of the American people. And Dean Atchison, who was then under secretary of state, but later to be secretary of state, said that the president, he said needed to speak, more clearly than truth And I remember being taught that this just showed that the leaders were exaggerating the threat. And I think what that really, kind of exposed was that academics underestimate the difficulty of mobilizing the American people to get almost anything done in government as opposed to exaggerating the threat.
  • Speaker 1
    0:57:32

    But I think you’re making a case for that kind of you know, clearer than truth exposition by our leaders of what’s at stake.
  • Speaker 3
    0:57:39

    Well, the final thing I’d say, Eric, is is to acknowledge that it’s a lot tougher to communicate that message today than it was in the cold war days. Or because because in the cold war days, you know, when I grew up, first of all, for well, after I was about ten years old, there were three television Bulwark. And and the president could go on television and he could reach sixty, seventy, eighty million Americans kind of all simultaneously. Now the media environment is so fractured and and so diverse that you can’t go on evening television and reach very many people because a lot of maybe the majority are gonna be streaming or they’re gonna be watching something else or cable or whatever that may or may not carry the message. So that’s why it acts has to be it’s a tougher challenge, but one that has to be more thoughtful and more strategic than was the case in the cold war.
  • Speaker 3
    0:58:47

    Because it’s so difficult to get the same message across to a large number of Americans at roughly the same time.
  • Speaker 1
    0:58:56

    Our guest has been secretary of defense former secretary of defense and former director of CIA. Robert Gates, Mr. Secretary, thank you for sharing this time with us, and thank you for your continuing service to the nation, with the article you’ve written and your other ongoing very trenchant observations about our national security. Thank you so much.
  • Speaker 2
    0:59:17

    Amen to that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:59:18

    Nice to be with both of me.