In a ceremony at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gares was awarded the 2011 Liberty Medal. The former head of the CIA led the American armed forces from 2006 to 2011, under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Before the award ceremony Thursday, Gates met with about a hundred veterans and ROTC cadets to answer their questions, such as this one from Cadet Daniel Harbuz of Drexel University.
“What is your advice for the military community as to how we go about understanding and defining a world that is harder to understand, who is responsible for what, and who is what, and who is connected to what, and what constitutes a boundary and an act of war?” he said.
“I asked those questions for four and a half years and I never got a good answer,” answered Gates.
Gates explained that the nation’s military is still designed for Cold War tactics, while the reality of modern warfare is much less predictable and organized.
“What we learned about counterinsurgency in Vietnam was lost after Vietnam was over,” said Gates. “Our services wanted to revert back to our comfort zone of planning large-scale conventional conflict. What we now know is we are going to face a range of conflicts, and enemies with different kinds of capabilities. My mantra was to have the most flexible military to address the broadest range of conflict.”
As for Iraq, Gates said it was a mistake for the U.S. to immediately dismantle the Iraqi military and police upon invasion, as handing security responsibility back to them years later proved difficult. He also said that banning anyone associated with the Ba’ath party from holding high office in Iraq was wrong.
Several times during the hourlong discussion, Gates talked about the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of banning gays from the military. He said he delayed the repeal so the military forces could adapt and train themselves for the cultural shift.
“You gotta give the Marines credit,” said Gates. “Their leaders were probably the most adamant about not moving forward, but once the decision was made to move forward, they were determined to do it better than everybody else. And faster.”
Gates also said that, despite the presence of women in the military for decades ago, there continue to be problems with sexual assault. He warns that the move to allow openly gay service members will not be without bumps.