Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Sec. Robert Gates in his own words

September 22, 2011 by Stefan Frank


UPDATE: In a special daytime program at the National Constitution Center, featuring questions from a live audience of 200 people and those submitted via Twitter, 2011 Liberty Medal recipient and former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates spoke about a range of subjects–from the future of the military, to the status of Middle East diplomacy, to the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't tell policy. To hear the program in its entirety, click the play button below:


Photo courtesy of Jeff Fusco

The conversation with Dr. Gates, which took place before an invited audience that includes ROTC cadets from St. Joseph’s University and the University of Pennsylvania, was moderated by David Eisner, president & CEO of the Center.

Here are some excerpts from the program. Click the play button to hear each quote in its entirety.

Sec. Gates on the future look of the military:

“Our record since Vietnam of predicting where we would use military force 6 months or 12 months from now is perfect. We have never, ever gotten it right once. So we live in that kind of an unpredictable world, and therefore to structure our forces against one or another particular potential adversary I think would be a grave mistake.”


On embedded journalists:

“The good thing is, a wide array of journalists have had firsthand exposure to the incredible young men and women in the military…I have yet to find a reporter who has been embedded who doesn’t come away absolutely awestruck by the quality of the young people in our military.""The problem, though, with an embedded reporter is that it's like watching the war through a soda straw. They get a very limited perspective."


On the pending UN vote for a Palestinian state:

“I’m sort of the ultimate realist, if you will, and the question I ask is: does a unilateral action with respect to statehood advance the cause of peace or deter? And my judgment would be that it deters it.”


On his work improving the civilian/military relationship:

“I said in some of my early speeches, including at the commencement of the Naval Academy in the spring of 2007, Congress and the Press are the surest guarantees of American liberty, don’t think of them as the enemy. To do so is self-defeating.”

Gates on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:

“You gotta give the Marines credit. Their leaders were probably the most adamant about not moving forward but, once the decision was made to move forward, they are determined to do it better than everybody else, and faster!”“But let’s not kid ourselves…we still have a serious problem in the military with sexual assault. This will not be implemented completely free of any incidents. The key will be in how they are handled, and the disciplinary measures that are taken, and to make it clear that it will not be tolerated.”


Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense from 2006 to 2011, is scheduled to receive the Liberty Medal later in the day, in honor of his five decades of distinguished public service.

Stefan Frank is the National Constitution Center's Director of Digital Engagement and manager of Constitution Daily's Twitter account @ConDailyBlog. Follow us!

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