Robert Gates at Powell Hall

This article is the published version of a review submitted to the Bascom Honors Program at Maryville University.

It takes some of the best and the brightest to run for a government office in most cases. Some would dispute this, others would at least partially agree with it. Few men have worked in government through multiple presidential elects such as Robert Gates. Gates has served in some form from Johnson to Obama, including positions with the Central Intelligence Agency and as Secretary of Defense.

Gates was a delightful speaker full of whit and intellect, but he also had a sense of humor. Gates discussed his time at Texas A & M and the pressure he was put under after firing a football coach on staff. He went on to say that was more controversial to many people than the over throwing of countries that he was also involved in. While this story erected a slight chuckle, it also reminded me of how poorly prioritized our nation has become. Where our interests are more in trivial matters at home, than with the serious problems abroad.

Another issue that Gates brought up was in relation to his duties during his term as Secretary of Defense, particularly in relation to men and women in the armed forces. As the evening began, Gates disclosed the heartbreaking feeling of signing the deployment orders of one particular soldier Patrick Dean. He followed up that he also sadly had to sign a letter of condolences to Dean’s family when Patrick was killed in action. He also addressed issues of sexual assault in the military and stated that “it is betrayal.” Gates suggests that the matter has not been taken seriously, and continues to persist due to failure of leadership and discipline by military officials.

Through all of the presidents that Gates worked for, one problem encompassed many of them: terrorism. He elaborated that terrorism was and is the greatest challenge as a government official. It is important to remember that “terrorists killed more before 9/11 than Al-Qaeda has since.” Gates goes on to discuss that one of the greatest terrorist threats he dealt with was in an East German Embassy. He went on to describe that the CIA kidnapped a cat in the embassy that was constantly in the meeting hall and bugged the collar in what was called “AcoustaKitty.”

Gates went on to discuss the achievements of Obama on the fight against terrorism, particularly the raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. He described it as a courageous move and a “craps shoot”, as there was no intelligence which placed bin Laden in the complex. When the raid happened and was over, “there were no high fives but there was much satisfaction.” He also mentioned the nervousness that the room felt as the operation had resemblances to the operation in Tehran in 1980 that failed.

Mr. Gates engaged in many aspects of lecture that evening, sharing stories from each president from Johnson thru Obama. Many of these stories were humorous, but all of them were relevant to the matters of government that he would always deal with. It is an example of dysfunction in government. Gates even went on to describe the problems in America exist “within a two mile radius of Capitol Hill.” Despite the dysfunction in government, he also says that whether the 21st century is the American Century again or not is “up to the people.” I tend to agree with him on that, thank you Mr. Gates.

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