Robert Gates on predicting next war: ‘We’ve never once gotten it right’

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says the national security establishment has a perfect record of predicting where American wars will next break out.

“I would look to history to answer that question,” Gates told journalist Mike Allen Thursday when asked at Politico’s Playbook Cocktails forum what theater he thinks America’s next war will take place in. “And here’s the history. In the 40 years since Vietnam, we have a perfect record in predicting where we will use military force next: We’ve never once gotten it right. If you think about it from Grenada to Haiti to Somalia to Panama to Iraq twice to Afghanistan to Libya twice, the Balkans and so on — in not one of those cases did we have any hint six months ahead of the start of hostilities that we were going to have military forces in those places.”

When Allen modified his question to ask what “hot spot” worries him the most, Gates got more specific.

“Well I think clearly Iran is a concern,” he said. “I think if you asked most senior national security officials, kind of their worst nightmare — it is a terrorist in this country with a weapon of mass destruction. But in terms of other countries, I think you obviously have to look at Iran and getting nuclear weapons and how destabilizing that would be.”

Gates also said he worries about North Korea and fears an “inadvertent conflict” breaking out in the South China Sea.

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Jamie Weinstein