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Posted on Oct 3, 2008 in War College

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’ Speech, September 29, 2008

By Armchair General

Given these realities, the military has made some impressive strides in recent years:

  • Special operations have received steep increases in funding and personnel; 

  • The Air Force has created a new air advisory program and two weeks ago, General Schwartz announced a new career track for unmanned aerial operations; 

  • The Navy stood up a new expeditionary combat command and brought back its riverine units; 

  • New counterinsurgency and Army operations manuals, plus a new maritime strategy, have incorporated the lessons of recent years in service doctrine. To the traditional principles of war have been added perseverance, restraint, and legitimacy; 

  • Train and equip authorities and programs allow us to move more quickly to build the security capacity of partner nations; and 

  • A variety of initiatives are underway that better integrate and coordinate U.S. military efforts with civilian agencies as well as engage the expertise of the private sector, including NGOs and academia. 
 Retired Marine Colonel T.X. Hammes has noted that where past insurgencies consisted of military campaigns supported by information operations, they now often consist of strategic communications campaigns supported by military operations. In Iraq and Afghanistan, extremists have made deft use of the internet and propaganda to misinform and intimidate local populations – the swing voters, if you will, in these struggles. Many defense leaders – including myself – have bemoaned the U.S. government’s limitations in this area. Our troops have made some ingenious adaptations, such as in Iraq, for example, they set up the "voice of Ramadi" broadcast to counter what was spewing forth from extremist mosques.


The Quadrennial Defense Review highlighted the importance of strategic communications as a vital capability, and good work has been done since. However, we can’t lapse into using communications as a crutch for shortcomings in policy or execution. As Admiral Mullen has noted, in the broader battle for hearts and minds abroad, we have to be as good at listening to others as we are at telling them our story. And when it comes to perceptions at home, when all is said and done, the best way to convince the American people we’re winning a war is through credible and demonstrable results, as we have done in Iraq. Even as we hone and institutionalize new and unconventional skills, the United States still has to contend with the security challenges posed by the military forces of other countries – from those actively hostile to those at strategic crossroads.

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The images of Russian tanks rolling into the Republic of Georgia last month was a reminder that nation-states and their militaries do still matter. Both Russia and China have increased their defense spending and modernization programs, to include air defense and fighter capabilities that in some cases approach our own.

In addition, there is the potentially toxic mix of rogue nations, terrorist groups, and nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. North Korea has built several bombs, and Iran seeks to join the nuclear club. North Korea is impoverished, literally starving, while Iran sits on a sea of oil. Both have primitive ground offensive capabilities and ballistic missile programs of increasing range. Both have a record of proliferation, and ties to criminal groups or terrorist networks.

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4 Comments

  1. Spot on speech and would have greater impact if Gates would be around much longer than January. Very possible that by November he will know that he will be replaced. The tasks and challenges he has outlined may be just as formidible as those faced by General Abrams in Vietnam and there is no guarentee that he will succeed in changing those institutionalized systems. His comments on insurgency echo those found in the new book “Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare”. Good luck to him.

  2. Armchair General staff cannot respond here. Please read
    disclaimer just above this text box before posting.

    Secretary Gates’ speech is the best articulation of the necessary
    changes that must be made within the military to meet current
    and future challenges. It squares with my own reading and the
    stories told by my son when he returned from Afghanistan.

    I am not optimistic that whomever wins the next election will
    find a new Secretary of Defense with a similar vision.

  3. Excellent comments by Mr. Gates and I hope the next
    Adminstration and Congress take it’s message to heart. Playing
    political football with defense procurement is one of the ills of the
    system that Secretary Gates cannot easily comment on but I can
    and I urge ACG readers to help make sure that their legislators in
    the next Congress get and understand Gates message.

  4. Has Obama approach any nominees for Secretary of defense? I’m
    Doing this a project for my english class. Thanks

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