(CNN) - Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Thursday cautioned against some of the foreign policy rhetoric on the campaign trail, particularly words used by the top two Republican presidential frontrunners.
Asked about Newt Gingrich, who calls for a regime change in Iran to prevent the development of a nuclear weapons program, Gates stressed the complexity of the situation in an interview with CNN's "John King, USA."
Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @PoliticalTicker
"This is one of the toughest foreign policy problems I have ever seen since entering the government 45 years ago, and I think to talk about it loosely or as though these are easy choices in some way, or sort of self-proclaim obvious alternatives, I just think is irresponsible," Gates said.
His comments came the same day the current Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, said there is a growing likelihood Israel could attack Iran sometime this spring in an effort to destroy its suspected nuclear weapons program, according to a senior administration official.
While Gingrich has said the United States should only take military action against Iran as a last recourse, the former House speaker has strongly suggested that steps must be taken to prevent the country from developing a nuclear weapon.
"Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon. All the world can decide is whether they help us peacefully stop it or they force us to use violence," Gingrich said on CNN in December. "But Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon."
Gates, who retired from his longtime civil service career in June, said Thursday the situation with Iran is laden with a "very difficult and dangerous set of choices."
"Those who say we shouldn't attack, I think, underestimate the consequences of Iran having a nuclear weapon," he said. "And those how say we should, underestimate the consequences of going to war."
Gates also argued against a line used by Mitt Romney, who has criticized President Barack Obama for being too soft and uses "pretty please" foreign policy.
But Gates, who also served as Defense Secretary under President George W. Bush, was quick to point out that Obama issued the deployment of 60,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden, as well as a number of other al Qaeda operatives.
"You know sometimes things get pretty heated in campaigns, but I think the reality is there is an acknowledgment on people's part around the world that this president is willing to use military force when our needs require it," he said.
– CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report.
Gingrich hammers Romney over 'poor' comment
Dobson makes surprise appearance at Santorum event
Romney blasts Panetta after Afghanistan announcement
Axelrod: Romney is a 'weak frontrunner'
Romney rebounds in national poll, moves ahead of Gingrich
Don't expect Gingrich or Romney to start acting responsiblly or in the best interest of America while they still have a chance to garner some media attention for their own personal gain. These are the caliber of people that we need to lead America? Not a chance.
Why oh why could we not get someone like Gates on that presidential ticket? I would take his view over these four clowns anytime.
the repos spend more time on bashing the president neither candidate has any real grasp as to the complex problems in Iran. The more they talk the more we realize that they have no clue. If elected they will have us in a mess,
Obama's the best Republican this country has seen in a long time. And the only one with a chance this cycle.
Bob Gates sounds like a statesman of sound judgement. We need more of him.
And these are the two Guys who want to be president, Romney and Newt. No leadership skills . . . Period. They would be a disaster at every turn.
Republicans gave us two unfunded wars that have driven our debt upward, so do not expect them to know much about foreign policy. Mittens and Newtron have created a lot of world wide hate with their stupid remarks trying to appeal to the extreme nutbags in their party. They border on treason, and that is the best the GOP has got for their top candidates?
Here's a thought: If Iran attacks another country, respond exactly in kind (eye for an eye and all that). Same thing if Israel attacks another Iran. Problem solved.
Yes, it is true that we need sound judgement and tact in the White House. However, it is interesting that President Obama gets a pass on this. Remember, he stated "If they bring a knife, we'll bring a gun." I am for Romney however. The President's record is terrible – worse than Bush.
It's too bad when people believe the lies and half truths the campaigners tell rether that the truth that has been seen by their own eyes. The president is trying to end the conflicts rather than promulgate them as his predeccessor did and what the candidates speak so glibly about and promoting their continuation. It's good for all of us to end these wars as soon a we can and still get our troops home alive.
I hope the republican contenders listened to what Dr. Gates has said about tongue lashing without thinking just to gain popularity about our foreign policy and control their criticism of our current policies. If not, they are idiots and should not be voted into any office.
These two clowns do not care what they say and they certainly are not worried about their words hurting the country. All they want to do is " grab " the vote of any idiot who will vote for them. The Republican Party " gets off " on war and so they hope their words trigger something and then they will blame someone else for the problems. George W. Bush wasn't the only one with a " cowboy mentality ".
I think Israel will use us to do their dirty work and then come crawling over here to get more money from us.
Maybe if they start a war, THEY should pay for it. Just saying.............................
No More Wars. We love our kids.
Why is this not bigger news? Gates if respected fairly well on both sides of the aisle, for him to be saying this of the Republican Candidates is pretty big
Will candidates listen to Robert Gates? No GOPers knows they can’t win Obama on foreign policy so they will say anything to scared their base
If the American people trust a Republican with this problem, they will get what they deserve. Either Romney or Gingrich would mean the renewalof neo-conservative foreign policy, which proved to be disasterous for the country and most of the West under Bush/Cheney. Gingrich and Romney should keep their pie holes shut and let the President and the foreign policy and defense experts deal with the issue. Lobbying and hedge fund management skills are not relevant.
There must be some other sane republicans around besides Gates. It would be nice to hear from them.
Gates has high respects for Obama. That is why he stayed on as Defense Secretary for the first 3 years of Obama's administration.
Gates maybe a registered Republican, but he supports Obama and would vote for Obama (again?).