Here’s a statement that should be preserved for posterity: Defense Secretary Robert Gates told an audience at West Point that, although he believes Iran is “hellbent” on developing nuclear weapons, the last thing the U.S. needs is to get into another war in the Middle East. Gates got misty toward the end of his speech, telling cadets he feels “personally responsible” for their lives.
Gates said the U.S. military was not organized and equipped for the kind of wars it finds itself in today.
“The current campaign has gone on longer, and has been more difficult, than anyone expected or prepared for at the start,” he said. “And so we’ve had to scramble to position ourselves for success over the long haul, which I believe we are doing.”
He called a drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq “inevitable,” with the debate mainly over timing.
“But the kind of enemy we face today—violent jihadist networks—will not allow us to remain at peace,” he said. “What has been called the `long war’ is likely to be many years of persistent, engaged combat all around the world in differing degrees of size and intensity. This generational challenge cannot be wished away or put on a timetable. There are no exit strategies.”
According to CNN, Gates got emotional at the end of his speech as he gave the assembled cadets some advice:
“I encourage you to take on the mantle of fearless, thoughtful, but loyal dissent when the situation calls for it,” he urged.
At the end of his talk, the Pentagon chief paused to thank the cadets for their decision to attend the academy in West Point, New York, despite what he said was “the knowledge of almost certain deployment to a distant and dangerous battlefield.”
Gates appeared near tears as he choked out the words, “I feel personally responsible for each and every one of you, as if you were my own sons and daughters.”