Gates grapples with 'wars of choice'
June 19th, 2011
09:00 AM ET
4 years ago

Gates grapples with 'wars of choice'

Washington (CNN)-Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reasserted his belief Sunday that "only time and history" can answer the question of whether the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the right decision.

"If the United States is directly threatened, I'll be the first in line to say we should use military force," he told CNN's "State of the Union." "It's wars of choice that I've become more cautious about."

Gates drew a line between the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, describing the Afghan war as a conflict where the United States "had no choice."

"We were attacked out of Afghanistan," he said. But for Gates, Iraq is different.

"What I've said is that the war in Iraq will always be clouded by how it began, which was a wrong premise," he continued. "There were, in fact, no weapons of mass destruction."

Gates also discussed the consequences of losing.

"Failure is a huge challenge for the United States," he said. "And failure will have costs of its own that will linger with us for a long time, as was the case in Vietnam."

For the secretary, who will resign at the end of June, the right thing to do is to end both wars "as quickly as possible."

"My objective in both of these wars has been to end them on terms that enhance United States security, that uphold America's prestige in the world, and our reputation, and advance our interest," he stated.

And Libya is a separate matter altogether.

Describing President Barack Obama's strategy as "disciplined," Gates said he supports the president's actions.

"He made clear there would not be U.S. ground troops in Libya, and he's stuck to that," he said.

"He set a way in which the United States would participate at the beginning."

While Gates would not classify Libya as a "direct threat," he did say it was a "vital interest" for the United States and defended the strategy there, saying, "It seems to me the kind of limited measured role that the president decided on in support of our allies who did consider it a vital interest is a legitimate way to look at this problem."

"(Libyan leader Moammar) Gadhafi will eventually fall," he predicted.

"The allies will be able to sustain this until that happens, and we will support them."

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Content Partner • Iraq • Libya • Robert Gates • TV-State of the Union
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Democrat Class Warfare - Destroying the economy, destroying the country

    While Gates would not classify Libya as a "direct threat," he did say it was a "vital interest" for the United States and defended the strategy there, saying, "It seems to me the kind of limited measured role that the president decided on in support of our allies who did consider it a vital interest is a legitimate way to look at this problem."
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    This is totally laughable. So now we are using our over stretched military to help BOGUS "vital interests" of our allies. Whether Khadaffy-Doo stays in power or not is irrelevant to everybody. The kook has been there for decades. He surrendered his nuke material (thank you George Bush!). This whole venture is a "humanitarian" leftist military adventure to intervene in a Libyan civil war. So when are we going to start the bombing in Syria? Or the next country where a nut case dictator starts shooting people? Totally insane foreign policy, complements of Obama.

    June 19, 2011 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  2. GI Joe

    But, how will the republicans be able to give their friends at places like Haliburton those high cost, no-bid contracts if we wait for legitimate wars?

    June 19, 2011 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  3. OneMoreTime

    This guy is just pure "class". And kudos to CNN for the questions you asked, and for giving him time to respond.
    He is truthful, truly has compassion for our troops, very smart, and loyal. He is right on about why and when
    the Iraq war was started and, I wish he had been Secretary of Defense instead of "Rummy". How different
    things would be today. I'm giving kudos to CNN, because Secretary Gates was on "Fox Sunday" and all
    that twit could do was try to get him to criticize President Obama. He didn't because he agrees with him, and
    wouldn't have if he did not agree. Godspeed Mr. Secretary, very sad to see you go, but I know you are
    exhausted and you leave with a very sincere JOB WELL DONE!

    June 19, 2011 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  4. GI Joe

    Gates was appointed by W, and it's the only thing W EVER did that was correct.

    June 19, 2011 10:45 am at 10:45 am |