Traveling to Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2006 was one of the most influential life experiences I’ve had. On one level, it offered a snapshot to help me understand what the Afghan people were experiencing, particularity the hardships of women and children
and opened my eyes to their feeling of abandonment from the U.S.
On another and more selfish level, it opened my eyes to how others live and how much we as Americans take for granted how good we have it in our everyday lives. That trip helped me find my center and value what’s really important in life. Although not perfect, everyday I’m thankful for the free life I live and appreciate our country’s efforts to protect those freedoms.
Feb. 5, 2013, I heard Dr. Robert Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director, during his appearance for the Ringling College Library Association’s Town Hall Lecture Series. I wish I was able to chat with him just a little about Afghanistan but from the day I spent hearing what he had to say during two lectures and the press conference it sounds as though the country is finally on the right track.
2014 Foreign Combat Troops Withdraw from Afghanistan
When it comes to Afghanistan, he believes the U.S. got the strategy right in 2009 to put the country on track by proposing removal of foreign combat troops by 2014. A deadline provided Afghanistan with five years for training and recruiting military forces with assistance from the United States.
Although he “opposed all kinds of deadlines in Iraq but in the case of Afghanistan and particularly after the country was at war for 10 years I think both we the American people and the Afghan people wanted to have some sense this was not an endless war,” and added, “Having that deadline puts oneness on Afghanistan to step up their game and begin accepting responsibility for security.”
Regarding criticism of letting the Taliban know when troops will exit, Gates responded, “Well, if we’re beating the hell out of them every single day for five years fine, let them wait. Because we’ll just take the fight to them and make them weaker and weaker day by day.”
Women in Combat? To Be or Not to Be?
“I approved women serving on submarines for the first time,” Gates said in response to a question whether women should serve in combat.
“Women have been on combat patrols in Afghanistan,” he said, “The soldiers that go on those patrols prefer to have a woman with them because culturally it’s easier for a woman to search an Afghan woman or search an Afghan house than it would be for a man.”
While in Afghanistan, he heard from women who had been on combat patrols but they did not have combat training. Although he supports women in combat, he does not want to see a lowering of standards and in turn, a reduction in effectiveness of combat.
“If you’re going to be in the artillery and be the front line you have to be able to lift an artillery shell. If you’re going to be in the infantry you’re going to have to be able to carry that big pack.”
What Makes War Worth Fighting?
“There has to be a as the phrase goes, clear and present danger against the United States. The problem is that war is a lot easier to get into than it is to get out of,” Gates said when asked what makes war worth fighting.
“If there’s any lesson we’ve learned from Iraq and Afghanistan it’s that. And it’s also the unpredictability of war…you don’t know how long it will take, you don’t know what the cost will be either in life or dollars. So I think war always needs to be the last resort not the first one.”
Most Proud Of…
As Secretary of Defense, Dr. Gates said he was most proud of taking “actions to make sure that our troops had the equipment and everything they needed to accomplish their mission and they’d come home safely. And then if they didn’t come home safely to make sure they had the best care in the world and so I think that leading to take those actions and I was willing to do whatever it took and spend whatever it cost.”
He added, “it was very gratifying…to have a soldier in Afghanistan who just came up and say ‘thank you’ meant more than all the medals.”
In the Situation Room
What was it like in the Situation Room the day Osama bin Laden was killed? After the team received the radio call with the code that the mission was accomplished, “There was no spiking the football, no clapping, no visible expressions of relief,” he said. There was “just a quiet satisfaction that 9/11 had been avenged.”
Does Hollywood Get it Right?
According to the former CIA Director, with one exception, he hasn’t “seen a movie or read a book about CIA that comes anywhere close to getting it right. And the one exception is ‘Argo.'” (For those who haven’t seen it, like me, it’s the critically-acclaimed film directed by and starring Ben Affleck.)
Gates continued, “I was executive assistant to the director of the CIA when the events depicted in ‘Argo’ took place. And in fact ended up doing work for Tony Mendez’s book, it’s the basis for the movie. And there are obviously some dramatic license, but for the most part it is a very accurate portray of an amazingly creative and risky operation that worked. And the thing I was glad to see in the movie was that the Canadians got credit because they were instrumental.”
Future President of the United States?
Will the former U.S. Secretary of Defense run for President?
“No,” he quickly replied when asked and added, ” Two words, ‘instant divorce.'”
Ringling College Library Association Town Hall 2013 Lecture Series
The Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Lecture Series features a dynamic list of speakers. Walter Isaacson kicked off the series and Dr. Gates followed up with an intriguing evening.
Dr. Benjamin Carson is up next and he’s created quite the media buzz for statements (about Obamacare, with Obama there, and how political correctness is wrong) he made during last week’s National Prayer Breakfast.
Following is a listing of upcoming lectures scheduled at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. A limited number of tickets to morning and evening lectures are available.
Dr. Benjamin Carson, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013
Capt. Mark Kelly, Monday, March 11, 2013
Tom Brokaw, Monday, April 8, 2013
Contact the Ringling College Library Association at (941) 925-1343 to purchase individual tickets.
Additional articles from my trip to Afghanistan you may be interested in:
- American Opens Opportunity for Women in Kabul, Afghanistan
- Doing Good and Finding Hope in Afghanistan
- Woman’s Mini-Guide to Kabul
Disclosure: In an effort to support my traveling habit and maintain this blog, this post contains affiliate links yet opinions are my own (or quotes from the former U.S. Secretary of Defense).