Great Comments from Secretary Gates

Secretary Gates spoke at West Point on Friday further illustrated how a career intelligence officer might very well end up being the best Secretary of Defense in U.S. history. (The full speech is here.) Secretary Gates put some sanity into the rapidly escalating pundit talk of new military action in North Africa, Yemen and Iran. Here are some highlights from his West Point talk:

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it”

“The odds of repeating another Afghanistan or Iraq — invading, pacifying, and administering a large third-world country — may be low,” Mr. Gates said, but the Army and the rest of the government must focus on capabilities that can “prevent festering problems from growing into full-blown crises which require costly — and controversial — large-scale American military intervention.”

I think he put COINdinista’s on notice.  I agree the era of regime change, wars of preemption and large-scale counterinsurgency are over.  Of course, I hear the reverse from COINdinista’s who routinely reiterate that recent past wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) will be all we face in the future.  As long as its an option, I vote no to COIN and no to regime change.  I understand COIN was a means to an end in Iraq.  But, I’ve always been highly skeptical of COIN as a solution to Afghanistan.

“As the prospects for another head-on clash of large mechanized land armies seem less likely, the Army will be increasingly challenged to justify the number, size, and cost of its heavy formations,”

“Men and women in the prime of their professional lives, who may have been responsible for the lives of scores or hundreds of troops, or millions of dollars in assistance, or engaging or reconciling warring tribes, may find themselves in a cube all day re-formatting PowerPoint slides, preparing quarterly training briefs, or assigned an ever-expanding array of clerical duties,” Mr. Gates said. “The consequences of this terrify me.”

Translation:  Prepare for a rotation in Iraq and Afghanistan, but expect a career that looks very different.  The Captain’s War will come to a close in the next two years.  The Army’s mission, resources, and future will be different from the recent past.  Army officers be prepared to reinvent yourself and your mission.

An excellent, honest speech from a Secretary of Defense handed one of the greatest challenges in the history of military conflict.  I feel for whomever replaces Secretary Gates.  The bar has been set very high.