Scholar and author Robert Gates is perhaps best known as defense secretary in two administrations: George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Before his tenure as head of defense, he was the Central Intelligence Agency director, where he was for more than a quarter of a century, and president of Texas A&M University, from 2002 to 2006.
His new book, A Passion for Leadership: Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years of Public Service, comes out at what may be a turning point in American history, depending on your landmarks. It’s certainly one of the wildest presidential seasons in anyone’s recollection.
On the dysfunction of bureaucracy:
“One of the things that Donald Trump and Sen. (Bernie) Sanders have tapped into is a lot of frustration among Americans with their elected officials, especially at the national level: the polarization paralysis, apparent self-dealing and not getting any problems done…. Part of that is also frustration with the bureaucracies that Americans have to confront every day of their lives, whether it’s local or state or the federal (level).
“It doesn’t need to be that way, based on my experience… these organizations can be reformed, can be changed, made more cost-effective, made more user-friendly and more responsive to the people they were elected to serve.”
On the biggest threat in terms of national security:
“The biggest threat that we face to our future as a country can be found within the two square miles that encompass the Capitol building and the White House in Washington. If we can’t figure out a way to have our leaders work together and begin to address some of the problems that we have, that have only been growing in the recent years, then there’s no single foreign threat that I think is inconsequential for us. It has huge implications for our economy, as well as for our security.
“One of the things that’s changed since since I joined the government 50 years ago at CIA is that there are many different national security challenges out there, not just one such as we faced in the Cold War.”
On the upcoming presidential election:
“I do worry that there isn’t much discussion of the how many candidates would fulfill the promises and/or the threats that they’re making. There’s a lot of assertion and sort of bold statements but I’ve kind of been disappointed that the media not been aggressive enough, frankly, and saying ‘Well, just how do you plan to do that?'”