Bob Gates has worked in senior national security positions for the past five presidents, Republican and Democratic. So it’s noteworthy — and to me, encouraging — that he is advising President-elect Donald Trump, too.
Gates, a former defense secretary, CIA director and deputy national security adviser, spoke with me by telephone Wednesday about the advice he’s giving Trump and his team — and the opportunities and pitfalls ahead.
At the top of Gates’s to-do list is striking the right balance between improving relations with Russia and appearing too cooperative with a belligerent President Vladimir Putin.
“I think the challenge for any new administration would have been how to thread the needle — between stopping the downward spiral in U.S.-Russian relations, which had real dangers, and pushing back on Putin’s aggressiveness and general thuggery,” Gates said.
“If you only want to stop the downward spiral, you empower Putin to feel that he can do whatever he wants. I worry that if you don’t have pushback — let him know there are limits, and that the U.S. will react, militarily, if necessary — then the chance of being taken advantage of is larger.”
Gates said that if he had been defense secretary when Russian jets made “dangerously close passes” over U.S. warships in the Baltic Sea in April, “I’d have recommended that we send a message to Moscow that the next time you do it, I’ll ‘paint’ you [with targeting radar], and I may shoot.”
If Trump is seen as too eager to cooperate with Russia, Gates cautioned, it will create perceptions in Europe, China, North Korea and Iran that “this guy isn’t prepared to back up his words with the tough action that’s necessary.”
Trump made a surprising, and somewhat ominous, pushback against Moscow on Thursday. After Putin said he planned to “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces,” Trump tweeted: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
Gates told me Thursday that he wished Trump had used the word “modernize,” rather than “expand,” but that “what he said is okay, given Putin’s recent comments.”
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SOURCE: David Ignatius
The Washington Post