Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates Visits CMC for Res Publica Luncheon and Athenaeum Dinner Address

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who also served as director of the CIA, visited Claremont McKenna College on Wednesday evening, April 4, and addressed members of the Res Publica Society and other invited guests during a luncheon in Orange County that same day. His visit was sponsored by the Pacesetters Fellowship Program, which is funded by CMC’s first graduates, representing the Classes of 1948, 1949, and 1950.

In her introduction of Gates at the Res Publica luncheon, CMC President Pamela Gann noted how fitting it was to have Gates as a guest on campus, as CMC was founded out of the G.I Billmany of its first students returning from World War II. In fact, as part of his visit to Claremont on Wednesday, Gates met with the College’s ROTC cadets, a number of whom later attended his Athenaeum dinner address, wearing their fatigues.

Gates, who serves as chancellor of his alma mater, The College of William & Mary in Virginia, said he also appreciated being at a fellow liberal arts collegeone that impressively requires a senior thesis and, like his alma mater, provides undergrads the solid grounding they’ll need for later success. “The questions I get from students are always more thoughtful than the ones I received from Congress,” Gates joked. He also credited students for “knowing the difference between a question and a speech,” which drew additional laughs from the audience.

Gates served as Secretary of Defense from 2006-2011, for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and worked 27 years as an intelligence professional. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama. (*Read more of his bio, below.) Gates’ afternoon address to Res Publica members focused on the Middle East, with perspectives on Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. “In political terms,” he said, the “tectonic plate of the Middle East has been shattered,” and, “Iraq is, today, the only real Arab democracy,” he said. He also spoke about North Korea’s nuclear program.

Questions from the audience included one about what it was like to serve for two very different presidentsto which Gates offered that, throughout his career, he had worked for eight different presidents, including Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, and that “each had a dramatically different style than the others.” Of Presidents Bush and Obama, Gates said the two United States leaders actually shared some “continuity in policies, including the campaign against al-Qaeda with President Obama even being more aggressive.

“This continuity minimized any seriousness discontinuities, if you will, for me,” he added.

Gates’ Athenaeum dinner remarks followed the same international territory, but this time touched on 9/11 and his thoughts on China’s growth, as well as its social and economic problems and its emerging middle class. One thing he said is for certain is that, “if we treat China as an enemy, it surely will become one.”

More about Dr. Gates’ visit to Claremont McKenna College can be found in this CMC Forum article by Aseem Chipalkatti ’15.

About Dr. Robert Gates
Gates became Secretary of Defense in 2006, replacing Donald Rumsfeld. Prior to, he served as the president of Texas A&M University, and before that, as interim dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M from 1999 to 2001. He joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1966 and spent nearly 27 years as an intelligence professional. Gates served as director of Central Intelligence from 1991 until 1993. He is the only career officer in CIA’s history to rise from entry-level employee to director. He served as deputy director of Central Intelligence from 1986 until 1989 and as assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser at the White House from January 20, 1989, until November 6, 1991, for President George H.W. Bush.

Gates has been awarded the National Security Medal, the Presidential Citizens Medal, has three times received the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, and has three times received CIA’s highest award, the Distinguished Intelligence Medal. He is the author of the memoir, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insiders Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War.

Gates was named 24th Chancellor of the College by the College of William and Mary Board of Visitors at his investiture on February 3, 2012. He succeeded Sandra Day O’Connor, former Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, who was appointed in 2005. He is the first alumnus to hold this position in William & Mary’s modern era.