Robert Gates on the Iran deal, Clinton’s Libya accountability, Donald Trump, and his new book

By Alex Bregman

Former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Robert Gates talked with Yahoo News and Finance Anchor Bianna Golodryga on “Yahoo News Live” about his new book, “A Passion for Leadership,” the Iran nuclear deal, and the 2016 election.

On the Iran nuclear deal, Gates told Golodryga, “I think we wanted the deal more than the Iranians did, and that’s never a good position in a negotiation.” He continued, “The criticism of the deal could have been mitigated if the president simultaneously had an effect on what the ayatollah did, which was announce we’re not going to change our policy toward the other side at all.”

On the prisoner swap and ex-CIA contractor Robert Levinson’s being left out, Gates said, “I am troubled by the fact that there was no clarification of his status even, much less getting him back.”

On whether or not the U.S. can trust the Iranian government, Gates said flat out: “No.” He continued, “They can be trusted to pursue their own self-interest.”

On the president’s strategy in the Middle East, Gates said, “I don’t think we’ve seen a clearly thought through strategy for dealing with the Middle East.”

He later said, “I think the president and his advisers have underestimated ISIS all along.”

On Republican candidates campaigning on the notion that President Obama has diminished U.S. standing in the world, Gates said, “There is a certain element of truth to that, but the other side of that coin — I certainly haven’t heard any strategy coming out of any of the Republicans for dealing with any of these issues. You hear sort of grandiose threats and promises, and carpet-bombing, and so on and so forth. These aren’t strategies, and they were not even tactical realities.”

On the GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, “I think that both Donald Trump and Sen. Sanders have tapped into a frustration on the part of the American people with their elected leaders — whether it’s paralysis, polarization, or the inability to get anything done. And I think that’s been the source of their appeal is [that] a lot of people are just angry.”

On Trump’s proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S., Gates said it was “not helpful” to the fight against terrorism. He said, “I think that you will see, if you haven’t already, this used by ISIS as a way of trying to reach [the] alienated living here in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.”

On the split within the Republican Party and the potential for three parties, Gates said, “I would hate to see it fragmenting. I think three parties becomes destabilizing in terms of how the Congress works. It’s bad enough with two.” He continued, “As the Republican Party splits, the reality is it simply strengthens the Democratic Party.”

On the Democratic side and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s strengths and weaknesses as a leader, Gates told Golodryga: “During the period I was there, I found her a good colleague: I found her tough-minded, and I found her quite realistic. The first time we really disagreed on anything was on the decision to intervene in Libya in early 2011.”

On Clinton’s role in the current turmoil in Libya, Gates said, “I think her influence was pivotal in persuading the president to broaden the goal in Libya beyond just saving the people in Benghazi from Gaddafi’s forces and essentially focusing more on regime change. The president told me that it was one of the closest decisions he’d ever made, sort of 51-49, and I’m not sure that he would’ve made that decision if Secretary Clinton hadn’t supported it.”