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Bush's Pentagon chief sees GOP candidates as childish, misguided

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served under Bush and Obama, sees this year's Republican field as embarrassing.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates talks with \"Face the Nation,\" May 11, 2013.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates talks with \"Face the Nation,\" May 11, 2013. 
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only member of the Bush/Cheney cabinet whom President Obama kept in place, has been critical at times of the Democratic president's style.
But it's nothing compared to what Gates, now retired from the public sector, has to say about the Republican Party's 2016 field. Gates, who considers himself a Republican, was asked on MSNBC last week about the GOP's national candidates.  "First of all they, they don't know what they're talking about," he responded.
Gates added, "[P]art of the concern that I have with the campaign, particularly when it comes to national security, is that the solutions being offered are so simplistic and so at odds with the reality of the rest of the world, with the way the world really works."
The Guardian reported that Gates went even further yesterday.

"The level of dialogue on national security issues would embarrass a middle schooler," Gates said of the Republican contenders at a Politico Playbook event in Washington on Monday. "People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they're saying or they're cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it's the latter, because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they're saying."

Reading Gates' criticisms, I was reminded of the recent reaction to a GOP debate from Dan Drezner, a center-right scholar, who wrote last month, "When it comes to foreign policy, the GOP's candidates for president in 2016 are either ignorant or insane."

The overwhelming bulk of what the GOP candidates had to say last night was pure, unadulterated horses***. [...] When I came of political age, the Republican Party had a surfeit of smart, tough-minded foreign policy folk: Brent Scowcroft, Robert Gates, James Baker, Bob Zoellick, Richard Haass, and Lawrence Eagleburger. I pity these people having to listen to what was said on the GOP main stage last night.

And this is precisely why I see Gates' recent concerns as important. He's not a partisan bomb-thrower or a pundit with an axe to grind; Gates is a longtime Republican who's worked in multiple administrations, serving under presidents from both parties.
He remembers the not-too-distant past, when the GOP was guided on foreign policy by responsible, learned hands -- including conservative senators like Dick Lugar and John Warner -- who approached international affairs with a degree of maturity.
The GOP used to see ownership over matters of international affairs as a pillar of Republican thought. Those days are over, replaced with presidential candidates whose rhetoric about national security issues "would embarrass a middle schooler."