Robert Gates criticizes White House for being “slow” to approve weapons to Ukraine

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized the Biden administration for the pace it’s taking to approve weapons systems to Ukraine, given that the embattled country is the “most important” foreign policy issue the U.S. is facing “right now.”




In an interview with “Face the Nation” that aired Sunday, Gates said the intelligence disclosures the Biden administration made to Ukraine and its NATO allies in the lead up to Russia’s invasion was “very important.” He also called the administration’s ability to bring the alliance together in support for Ukraine “very impressive.”


But the administration has been dragging its feet in providing weapons systems, like tanks, rocket launchers and fighter jets, to Ukraine, Gates said.




“There’s a debate for a long time: do we send tanks?” Gates said. “Well, finally, we sent tanks. Do we send things like the HIMARS and other kinds of capabilities? And we finally did it, but only after months and months of indecision. They’ve been worrying about, talking about F-16s for many, many months, and now we hear well, we’re going to go ahead and allow the training on the F-16s. Well, that’s a decision that could have been made six months ago.”


President Biden told allies on Friday he was approving plans to train Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 fighter jets, according to a senior administration official. The decision was another shift by the Biden administration to provide more advanced weapons systems to Ukraine after long insisting that it was sending sufficient weapons to the country to defend itself and amid worries that Ukraine would use the advanced weapons in Russian territory.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly asked for fighter jets from western allies. With Ukraine improving its air defenses and as it prepares to launch a counteroffensive against Russia, officials believe the fighter jets could be essential, the Associated Press reported.




“Truth is, if they had begun training pilots on F-16s six months ago, then those pilots would be able to get into those airplanes this spring,” Gates said. “So it’s the delays in the decision-making process and in getting the — and finally approving the weapons for- for Ukraine. I understand the need to avoid a direct confrontation with the Russians, but we’ve, I think we learned pretty early on that as long as we weren’t providing things that could attack Russia proper, that Putin was not going to retaliate.”




In response to criticism that the U.S. is giving too much of its weapons stockpiles to Ukraine, thus weakening the U.S., Gates said those weapons “are not necessarily the kinds of weapons we would rely on, if we ended up with in a confrontation, for example, with China.”




“The military is watching very carefully to make sure we don’t draw down our stockpiles and some of these weapons too far. And I think they’re monitoring that on a very, very closely,” he said.




Gates said he thinks currently the biggest threat to the U.S. is polarization, which has been made worse by “a level of meanness and a lack of civility among our politicians or the sense that somebody who disagrees with you is not just somebody you disagree with, but is an enemy, is a bad person.”




“This lack of civility is, I think, something new and really is pretty pervasive in the Congress,” he said. “And it sets a pretty bad example for the rest of the country.”




He said the solution needs to start with leaders, suggesting they stop demonizing people who disagree with them.




“You can say, ‘My opponent has a different point of view. I totally disagree. I think that that would be a terrible mistake, but I also believe that he or she also is trying to do what he thinks, he or she thinks what is best for America,'” he said. “It’s pretty simple actually.”




But, he said, one of the issues that has united Democrats and Republicans is China — but he called for a “more nuanced policy.”




“There’s kind of a competition on the Hill to see who can be tougher on China,” Gates said. “It makes a more nuanced policy by the administration more difficult, because anything that the administration does to try and put a floor on this relationship gets criticized on the Hill as conceding something to the Chinese. But I think by and large that there is very broad bipartisan support for what the U.S. is doing for Ukrainians, and I think it’s also in terms of China.”



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