Talking Presidential Power with Robert Gates

Former CIA Director got quite the introduction from Mark Welsh, Dean of the Bush School.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Bush School at TAMU, Dean Mark Welsh, Andy Card, Robert Gates, Exercise of Power

But given that Gates has served as CIA Director, Secretary of Defense, President of TAMU,Chancellor of the College of William & Mary, and President of the Boy Scouts, the introduction was well deserved.

Gates has written “Exercise of Power,” an analysis of presidential power since the Eisenhower Administration. Interestingly, Eisenhower, according to most scholars–and Gates–ranks near or at the top of Presidents for foreign policy and use of power. Gates contrasts this strongly with “where we are today.”

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Bush School at TAMU, Dean Mark Welsh, Andy Card, Robert Gates, Exercise of Power

Gates argues that the many failures in US foreign policy over this periods stems from the “over-militarization of our foreign policy,” which he blames on the gutting of our intelligence agencies (during the Clinton Administration) following the Cold War. This left little in the way of intelligence and much in the way of weapons. “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Interestingly, Gates spent much time discussing “cyber power,” because, as he notes, it can be used militarily, politically, and economically: “It can be used to dismantle infrastructure, to thwart or change the direction of weapons, it can be used to get into people’s political systems and affect elections.” This is something that has long interested the LEAP Center/Ambassadors, and today’s current leaders may not be fully up to date on this power. The last four nominees of the two major parties, for example, have been 69 years or older.

Gates also mentions the US’s power in Science & Technology, Economics, Development Assistance, Intelligence, Strategic Communication (he points out that China has surpassed us in this area), Religion, Ideology, and our Alliances–the latter of which he laments, as he watches our international strength wane).

When these “instruments of power” are working together, it becomes a “symphony of power,” which has been notably lacking “in the past thirty years.”

Following a discussion of Gates’ book, Dean Welsh welcomed Andy Card, who served as both Chief of Staff for President George W. Bush and Secretary of Transportation for President George H. W. Bush, the President of Franklin Pierce University, a House member in the Massachusetts State House –and is now the Interim CEO of the Bush Foundation.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Bush School at TAMU, Dean Mark Welsh, Andy Card, Robert Gates, Exercise of Power

With Card in the discussion, he and Gates shared stories of working for George H. W. Bush, whom Card referred to as the “greatest one-term President in US history.”

Gates highlighted the fact that Bush assembled a team from his foreign policy advisors–by team, he meant a group of individuals who knew each, could work together, and whose strengths and weaknesses complemented and overlapped each other. And both he and Card praised Brent Scowcroft, who served as National Security Advisor. The NSA is designed to be an “honest broker,” taking the other foreign policy actors, learning their views, and communicating them to the President so that the Chief Executive had all the information needed to act.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Bush School at TAMU, Dean Mark Welsh, Andy Card, Robert Gates, Exercise of Power

It’s always great to hear smart, mostly non-partisan discuss policy, but it was especially great to hear two people that the LEAP Ambassadors have had a chance to see or meet in person.

Thanks to the Bush School at TAMU for their consistently excellent programming. To see the whole program, click here.