Former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Robert Gates was highly critical of President Trump during the campaign, calling him “unfit to be commander in chief.” But Gates said he is heartened by Mr. Trump’s Cabinet picks. It was Gates who suggested that the president consider Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
In an interview on Charlie Rose’s PBS show, Gates expressed unease about Mr. Trump’s stance toward Russia.
“I am concerned about the president’s apparent unwillingness to criticize the Russians,” Gates said. “He’s acknowledged that the Russians were behind the hacking. But in terms of Russia’s aggressiveness, its meddling, its interventionism, its general bullying and thuggery, those are real. That’s real behavior.”
“What does [Mr. Trump] say when somebody of your credibility says to him, ‘you got it wrong about Russia’?” Rose asked Gates.
“I told him the same thing that I said in the Senate hearing introducing Rex Tillerson for his nomination hearing. I said, ‘Your administration is going to have to thread the needle and figure out how, on the one hand, to push back against Putin’s aggressiveness and meddling and interventionism, and at the same time, stop a continuing downward spiral in the U.S.-Russian relationship that is potentially quite dangerous.’ But they’ve got to do both sides of it. They’ve got to thread the needle, and there has to be some pushback.”
“What does that mean, ‘thread the needle’?” Rose asked.
“You’ve got to figure out a policy that does both. You can’t just be accommodating to Russia, look for deals with Russia,” Gates said. “You also have to be willing to push back against Putin because he is a guy who, he has the old line used about Premier Khrushchev, ‘What’s mine [is] mine and what’s yours is negotiable.’”