News & Politics

'Pretty Naive': Robert Gates Criticizes Both Biden and Trump on '60 Minutes'

Mike Groll

 

The man who ran the Pentagon and oversaw the War on Terror from 2006-11 said watching the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal this summer made him sick.

“It was really tough. For a few days there, I actually wasn’t feeling very well. And I realized it was because of what was happening in Kabul,” Robert Gates confessed on “60 minutes” Sunday night. “And I was just so low about the way it had ended, if you will. And I guess the other feeling that I had was that it probably did not need to have turned out that way.”

Gates added that, in his view, former President Donald Trump failed to properly plan for the evacuation of Afghans who helped the U.S. fight the Taliban. But the 78-year-old also believes President Joe Biden did not act quickly or properly, saying, “Once President Biden reaffirmed there was going to be a firm deadline date, that’s the point at which I think they should have begun bringing those people out. You’d have to be pretty naïve not to assume things were gonna go downhill once that withdrawal was complete.”

Gates scoffed at the so-called “over-the-horizon” capabilities Biden currently espouses.

“The military refers to it as over the rainbow,” he explained to Anderson Cooper. “This notion that you can carry out effective counterterrorism in Afghanistan from a great distance, it’s not a fantasy, but it’s just very, very hard. If you don’t have the kind of sources on the ground to have kind of real-time intelligence that allows you to target people, it’s very complicated.”

He’s proud of the overall military mission since 9-11, having not allowed a “successful foreign-based terrorist attack on the United States.”

More than seven years ago, Gates wrote that Biden has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” It’s a view he stands by.

“He opposed every one of Ronald Reagan’s military programs to contest the Soviet Union. He opposed the first Gulf War. That list goes on,” Gates said.

He sees China as the pre-eminent military and economic threat to the U.S., thus applauds a recent deal to help Australia deploy nuclear-powered submarines.

“I think the submarine deal between the United States, United Kingdom and Australia is a great strategic move,” the former defense secretary argues. “It sends a powerful message all around the world that we will remain a force to be reckoned with in the Western Pacific.”

Related: Amid Concerns Over China, U.S. Special Forces Train Taiwanese

As to China, “I think this is a place where President Trump got it right. He basically awakened Americans, and I would say especially the business community, that the assumptions about which we had gotten wrong, and the assumption for 40 years was that a richer China would be a freer China, and that’s clearly not going to happen. But there’s another piece of this puzzle with China and that is the economic side. Chinese now manage something like three dozen major ports around the world. They are everywhere,” Gates analyzed.

Does he think Trump will run in 2024?

“I hope not,” Gates quipped. “I am a strong believer in institutions whether it’s the intelligence community, the Defense Department, the State Department, the Justice Department, the FBI. He disdains institutions and I think he did a lot to weaken institutions.”

Gates doesn’t believe America’s power is declining, but after serving under eight presidents, he follows a doctrine.

“I am very much a believer in the importance of military power, and in the United States having predominant military power. I also am firmly convinced that the use of the military should be the very last resort in dealing with any international situation because no matter why and how it starts no one can predict what will happen.”