Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates Reveals the Biggest Threat to the USA, and It's Not China

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates appears on Face the Nation (5-21-23). (Credit: CBS News)

Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents Bush and Obama from 2006-2011, appeared on “Face the Nation” Sunday and told moderator Margaret Brennan that he thinks the biggest threat to the nation isn’t white supremacy, it’s not China or Russia or climate change—it’s the political polarization of our country. It’s not the first time we’ve been so divided, he says, but there’s something new about our latest rifts:


MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you think the biggest threat to United States is right now?

FORMER SEC. GATES: I think it is the polarization in the country. And, you know, we’ve always had polarization in America.

The, if you go back to the Jefferson, Adams presidential race in 1800, the things that were said in that election would fit right into a current political environment. But what’s been different, more recently, is not just a measure of paralysis, as indicated by the debt ceiling, but a level of meanness and a lack of civility among our politicians, or the sense that somebody who disagrees with you is not just somebody you disagree with, but is an enemy, is a bad person.

This lack of civility is, I think, something new and really is pretty pervasive in the Congress. And it sets a pretty bad example for the rest of the country.


Gates is also concerned about the current stalled debt negotiations between President Joe Biden and House Republicans, and how the drama lowers our status on the world stage:

I think it’s a real problem. It feeds the narrative from China in particular, that our system doesn’t work, that it’s broken, it’s paralyzed, it can’t get things done, that their model is more stable, and actually more effective than ours. So sort of having these episodes of great crisis, and then some solution at the last second, really feeds the notion that the U.S. political system isn’t working at all.


He thinks things haven’t gotten so polarized that the very system isn’t working as intended:

MARGARET BRENNAN:  Do you think it [the political system] is working?

FORMER SEC. GATES: Not very well. You know, I mean, the truth is, in the last year or so some fairly, fairly major legislation got past some of it with bipartisan support. And so, there is the possibility of some things being done. But on something like the debt ceiling, and so on, the inability to get some of these big things done, I think is a real problem.

Brennan asked how he would change things. Gates argued that we need to focus on doing what’s right for America, not just attacking our political enemies:

Well, I think it starts with leaders, and you don’t have to demonize people to disagree with them. You can say, you know, my opponent has a different point of view. I totally disagree. I think that that would be a terrible mistake, but I also believe that he or she also is trying to do what he thinks, he or she thinks what is best for America.

It’s pretty simple actually. It’s just treating each other with more civility and the reality that as Americans, we’re all in this together. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re from a red state or a blue state.

Whatever happens to the country happens to everybody.

Gates had plenty more to say regarding China, Donald Trump, our military, and more—you can read the full transcript here—but his commentary on our divided nation sticks out. He’s 100 percent right that it’s a major problem that effectively kneecaps any attempts at bipartisanship.


I don’t think there’s an easy fix, and even though this is partisan to say, I can’t help but point out then when one party attacks the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, launches baseless investigations and impeachment efforts against a sitting president, and promotes a two-tiered justice system, it’s very hard to find common ground.

We all better hope these debt ceiling negotiations are successful because if they fail things will only get more bitter between the two sides, and the American people—as well as the world—will pay the price.


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