Former Texas A&M President and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates joined Dean of the Bush School Mark Welsh in Rudder Theatre on Wednesday for a discussion about his decades of public service.
The event offered insight into Gates’ many achievements throughout his career. In addition to his roles running A&M and the Department of Defense, some of Gates’ most notable credits include director of the CIA and interim director of the Bush School of Government and Public Service. He’s currently a partner at consulting firm RiceHadleyGates LLC. Gates has also received multiple awards for his dedication to public service, including the Presidential Citizens Medal, National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, the CIA’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
When Welsh introduced Gates, he listed many of Gates positions in government and said Gates’ work was exemplary during his years as Secretary of Defense under the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
“During that period, he actually transitioned from one president to another, remaining as Secretary of Defense,” Welsh said. “[That is] the first time that’s happened in the history of our country.”
At the start of his chat, Gates said he particularly enjoyed his time as president of A&M, eliciting a “whoop” from the current and former students in the audience.
“The four and a half years I was president here, I can say with some confidence, was the most fun job I ever had,” Gates said.
Laura Leddy, an international affairs graduate student, said she enjoyed attending Gates’ “Fireside Chat,” which was hosted by the Bush School and the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs.
“I thought it was really interesting,” Leddy said. “I like how great a reaction the crowd had to Bob Gates. I think that says a lot about his time as president of the university and beyond.”
One of the first topics addressed in the chat was the impeachment of President Trump. Gates contrasted the current issue to some that he has experienced with past presidents.
“It’s hard to make any unique observations,” Gates said. “I guess what I would say is that I joined the [National Security Council] for the first time four months before Richard Nixon resigned. As I like to say it, I signed on as a deckhand of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.”
Gates said this process of impeachment will most likely distract politicians across the board from problems that deserve more attention.
“We have a lot of serious problems facing this country,” Gates said. “My worry is that this process will not only further polarize the Congress, which seems pretty hard to do at this point, but will also further distract them.”
This polarization that has become more pronounced under the current administration has radicalized the political parties, Gates said. He said this is one of his main concerns going into the 2020 election.
“I don’t hear any unifiers out there,” Gates said. “All the candidates that I see are trying to divide. That’s across the spectrum. It seems to me maybe that’s one of the most important things we need to talk about.”
Gates said employees of the government need to improve their methods and strategies if they hope to confront the problems of today.
“One of the things that troubles me about Washington generally is the absence of a strategy for dealing with anything, and that’s not new with this president,” Gates said. “It’s especially harder to make strategy on Twitter.”
Another topic Gates discussed was U.S. foreign policy, specifically in regards to China.
“I think Gates has really important insight into foreign policy, which I am especially interested in from his time as the director of the CIA and secretary of defense,” Leddy said.
Gates said he fears the government will act too radically toward China and threaten the possibility of a civil relationship.
“I’ve always compared the American government to a dinosaur,” Gates said. “It has a little tiny brain and no fine motor skills. I’m afraid we’re going to overreact too far in the other direction with China and not understand that this relationship has to be kept peaceful.”
One point Gates consistently referred to was the need for unity between Americans, regardless of political party affiliation. He said politicians must resolve the problems between themselves before they can be successful in solving the problems facing the nation.
“I don’t hear any of the candidates talking about the importance of bringing Americans together, about how we begin to repair the divisions among us and how we begin to deal with the reality that we’re all in this together,” Gates said. “We’re going to have to work together to make progress in this country.”