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Robert Gates: Defense Secretary's exit interview

Robert Gates will retire this month as the US Defense Secretary. In his 45-year career, he's served under eight presidents. In a Newsweek interview, Gates discusses Hilary Clinton, Osama bin Laden's death, and emerging US isolationism.

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Afghanistan as another Vietnam? “There is one parallel that I think is appropriate, and that is, we came to the right strategy and the right resources very late in the game. Creighton Abrams had the right strategy in Vietnam, but it was too late. President Obama, I think, got the right strategy and the right resources for Afghanistan—but eight years in. So asking for another year is hard.”

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“I’ve always believed that, at the end of the day, there is no alternative to a political solution [in Afghanistan]. The question is, on whose terms? And I think we are increasingly in a position that reconciliation [with the Taliban] could take place on the terms of the Afghan government and the Coalition.”

“Talk to our commanders. Their view is that this is the critical year, because we have taken away all of the Taliban’s heartland, and if they can’t take it back this year, and we further expand the security bubble, then—just like the sheikhs in Anbar province [in Iraq] who had come to the conclusion that they could not beat us—they come to the table. I’m not saying it will all be settled by the end of the year. I’m just saying you could begin a serious dialogue by the end of the year.”

On the tone in Washington:

“Congress is all over the place. The Republicans are a perfect example. I mean, you’ve got the budget hawks and the defense hawks within the same party. And so I think there is no consensus on our role in the world. Actually, there never was a consensus, but there was a broad layer, a broad degree of support across the political spectrum. I think that is fragmenting.”

“Things have gotten so nasty in Washington… One of the big changes in the Congress since I first came to Washington is that all of these folks go home every weekend. They used to play golf together; their families got to know each other, go to dinner at each other’s homes at weekends—and these would be people who were political adversaries. The last surviving relationship like that, that I can tell, was the relationship that Alan Simpson and even Orrin Hatch had with Ted Kennedy. I just don’t think you find any of those now. And if you don’t know somebody, and you don’t care what they think about you, then it’s easy to call them names and make all kinds of allegations.”

“The other thing that has changed is the 24/7 news cycle—cable, all the talk shows. In the old days, people who were offensive or nasty or had wacky ideas found it hard to get exposure on the institutional outlets, whether it was the big newspapers or the three big networks or CNN. But with that proliferation [of channels] and blogs and everything else, everybody can be on all the time. And I will tell you from personal experience, people will say things on blogs or in emails that they would never dream of saying in person.”

On civility:

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