Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that prisoner abuse scandals in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay and other mistakes have damaged America’s reputation, and work must be done to prove the U.S. is still a force for good in the world.

While he did not mention the war in Iraq, he told a conference of top security officials from around the world that the U.S. has to do a better job of explaining its policies and actions.

For the last century most people believed that “while we might from time to time do something stupid, that we were a force for good in the world,” Gates said.

And while he said a lot of people still believe that, he added, “I think we also have made some mistakes and have not presented our case as well as we might in many instances. I think we have to work on that.”

Delivering his first speech as Pentagon chief, Gates also made an urgent call for NATO allies to live up to their promises to supply military and economic aid for Afghanistan, saying that failing to do so would be shameful.

And in a carefully worded rebuke, he used both humor and some pointed jabs to blunt Russia’s sharp attack against U.S. foreign policy a day earlier.

In remarks before a prestigious security forum, Gates dismissed as dated Cold War rhetoric Russian President Vladimir Putin’s charge Saturday that the United States is seeding a new arms race.

A day after Putin blamed U.S. policy for inciting other countries to seek nuclear weapons to defend themselves, Gates responded: “As an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.”

Then, as the audience chuckled, he added, however, that he has accepted Putin’s invitation to visit Russia.

“We all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia,” said Gates. “One Cold War was quite enough.”

The bulk of his speech was devoted to the future of the NATO alliance, and the need to work together to defend the trans-Atlantic community against any security threats.

He struck a familiar theme — one he pressed during a NATO defense ministers meeting this week, when he urged the allies to follow through on their promises to help secure and rebuild Afghanistan.

“It is vitally important that the success Afghanistan has achieved not be allowed to slip away through neglect or lack of political will or resolve,” Gates said. Failure to muster a strong military effort combined with economic development and a counternarcotics plan “would be a mark of shame,” he said.

Gates also sketched out the challenges ahead, from Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the situation in the Middle East to China’s recent anti-satellite tests and Russia’s arms sales.

Just eight weeks on the job, Gates used the conference and a NATO gathering earlier in the week to introduce himself to the international community and meet privately with a number of defense ministers.

In other comments, he said the Bush administration would like to close Guantanamo Bay detention facility, but there are a number of serious and committed terrorists there that should never be let free. And he said detainee trials there will be conducted openly and with adequate defense for them.

Referring to problems the U.S. has had convincing other countries to accept some detainees, Gates said the issue is a difficult problem the nation will continue to work through.

Delivered amid growing tensions between the U.S. and Russia and to an audience including many Iraq and Afghanistan war skeptics, the speech was the first public test of Gates’ diplomatic skills. It came at a venue that at times had been dominated by his more bombastic predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld.

So as he neared the end of his remarks, Gates made a deliberate move to separate himself from Rumsfeld and any lingering discord.

In the run-up to the Iraq war, Rumsfeld sharply criticized nations opposed to the conflict — specifically France and Germany — referring to them as “Old Europe.”

Without mentioning Rumsfeld’s name, Gates said some people have tried to divide the allies into categories — such as east and west, north versus south.

“I’m even told that some have even spoken in terms of ‘old’ Europe versus ‘new,'” Gates said. “All of these characterizations belong in the past.”


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Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press


  1. […] U.S. image hurt by prisoner scandalsCapitol Hill Blue – … for inciting other countries to seek nuclear weapons to defend themselves, Gates responded: As an old Cold Warrior … said the Feds (perhaps Pentagon?) contacted him to say they wanted to use an area of inner San Antonio to do an anti-terrorism … […]

  2. Gates is amusing in the same way Bsh and Cheney are amusing: they raise my level of incredulity to the point I guffaw in a mad cycle of laughter. USofA as a force for good in the w-o-r-l-d? They have got to be kidding…we aren’t even a force for good in our own country. We are a disgrace nationally and internationally.

    The disgrace is that we have robbed our children of any future other than drudgery to pay off the BUsh-Cheney bills in their ill-begotten push to world military dominance. (Not to mention the destruction of our environment!) We will destroy the world with invasion after invasion of other countries all because the rest of the world is now so cowed they are incapable of reacting.

    I am so ashamed of us. And, no, he wasn’t elected…he stole the election and we are, if not in name, certainly in action and result now fascist.

    I ask anyone to show me how we are now functioning as a republic or a democracy.

  3. Ray, I am very familiar with all the conspiracies around the Masons, Templars, and the Illuminati and just about everything you mentioned. It has roots in the history of religion. It is scary stuff!

    I had a remarkable history teacher in high school (1948)who made it clear, in our American History class, that none of this could influence Americans because we were a “Secular” nation! Whether our elected officials were influenced by all this superstition is another story.

    Americans are raised from day one to believe in God. The problem is that this can lead to a million interpretations of hundreds of Gods.

    Americans should be focusing on the one document that was written to guide us through our laws and then it would be possible to develop our individual religions for our spiritual laws.

    The basic American does not understand how our nation is supposed to run. The founders thought they had covered all bases but the academics in America let them down. It is a tragedy that we don’t live under our nation’s laws embellished by our own spiritual laws.

    The balance is off in this current white house and we are now looking to D.C. for our spiritual laws. The Conservatives are focused on this and will not stop until our sins are legislated in the Constitution through Amendments. We are handing the government our souls to revamp and then hand them back to us. If there was anything our founders did not want, this is it!

    It is brain washing at it’s finest and I fear that it has won! Schools should not be teaching religion and the churches should not be directing their members how to vote. The human brain is quite able to find their own religion and locate their own candidates.

    Any movement that abuses religion should immediately be exposed! Any President who uses God to terrorize the people should be removed! Too many Americans look to President Bush as a religious leader and has given him complete and total control over what he is doing to America. This is the result of a weak education system in America. This is not a conspiracy!

  4. Gates certainly got to the heart of the matter after only a short time in office…”prisoner abuse scandals in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay and other mistakes have damaged America’s reputation” Wow, with that type of candor he should certainly advance the american agenda. With that in minde I wonder if he could review Guantanamo fiasco and see if may one or two ranking officers should have been charged?? Just a suggestion.

  5. Ever notice how the term ‘we’ is so often mentioned whenever the U.S. is being blamed for all this tragedy? I don’t remember anybody asking me if it was OK to invade other countries nor do any of my friends or acquaintances. All I can say to the folks in control: SPEAK FOR YOURSELF AND STOP INCLUDING ‘U.S.’ IN YOUR SPEECHES!

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