Former Defense Secretary Calls For Better Leadership, New Middle East Policy

“Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates does not think much of the leadership skills of President Barack Obama. Nor does he have a high opinion of the aptitude of some of the Republican presidential candidates. In fact, he has joked he would move to Canada if real estate mogul Donald Trump were elected president.

“Presidential candidates are talking in one way or another about the problems and inadequacies of government and business, but the candidates are largely focused on primal scream therapy rather than actual solutions,” Gates told a group of students at a recent event promoting his new book, A Passion for Leadership: Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years of Public Service.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Gates noted the nation finds itself at a critical juncture and needs a president who possesses a resolute character and one who can unite an obviously divided nation.

“The new president must be a true unifier of Americans. The nation is divided over how to deal with challenges such as immigration, the quality of public education, economic inequality, our role abroad and more. Too many presidential candidates of all stripes are working overtime to deepen our divisions, to turn us against one another, to play to our fears. They are prepared to place all that holds us together as one people, as Americans, at risk for their own ambitions,” he wrote.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Gates contends the real problem with U.S. policy has been the absence of any clear strategy akin to the guiding principles which steered the US through the Cold War.

“We all implicitly accepted [George] Kennan’s view that if we contained the Soviets long enough, their internal contradictions would finally lead to their collapse, even if nobody had any idea when,” he says.

“If you accept the premise that we face a generation-long period of turbulence and violence in the Middle East, the lack of an overarching strategy for how you react to a region in flames is a problem,” Gates adds.

The new approach to leadership called for by Gates is also needed in terms of US policy toward the Middle East, argues Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy.

“The playbook we’ve been using since the 1940s isn’t going to cut it anymore. We still seem to think the Middle East can be managed if we curry favor with local autocrats, back Israel to the hilt, constantly reiterate the need for U.S. ‘leadership,’ and when all else fails, blow some stuff up,” he says pointedly.

Rather than adapting to geopolitical changes, the US has remained ensconced in a Cold War mentality that has prevented the recognition that without a dominant Soviet Union, there is no rival to organize US strategy. Furthermore, a severely diminished view of the US within the Middle East demands a new outlook. And maybe a dramatic move — let the region take authority over its future.

“In the end, the fate of the Middle East is going to be determined by the people who live there and not by us, though we might be able to play a constructive role on occasion. And the sooner Americans recognize that they’re better off coaching from the sidelines, instead of getting bloodied on the field, the better off they’ll be,” he concludes.



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