Lecture at the U.S. Military Academy.

Author:Abrahamson, James L.

Beginning with humor to connect with his cadet audience, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ended his presentation by expressing solemn respect for the young men and women who came and remained at West Point knowing full well they would likely graduate into an army engaged in "long, grinding and complex" combat with enemies that have no regard for the law of war. They could have chosen "something easier or safer and of course better paid," but instead "took on the mantle of duty, honor and country" - a decision worthy of "the profound gratitude and eternal admiration of the American people." Between those points, the secretary shared his views on going to war and some central components of the leadership now demanded of American officers.

From Fox Connor, the almost unknown colleague and mentor of George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower, Gates reiterated three axioms: "Never fight unless you have to; Never fight alone; Never fight for long." Those principles must be flexibly adapted to warfare against those who employ indiscriminate terror. With Iraq clearly in mind, Gates described as a mistake the U.S. neglect of Afghanistan after the Soviet defeat in the 1980s. Connor's first axiom also does not mean that the United States should forego the "military option" in regard to an Iran "hellbent [sic] on acquiring nuclear weapons." Responding to "violent jihadist networks" willing to use weapons of mass destruction may require pre-emption or preventive war.

Regarding "Never fight alone," the secretary recalled his August 1998 New York Times opinion piece, wherein he predicted that an aggressive response to terrorism "would, in virtually all cases, require America 'to act violently and alone.'" Though the non-U.S. members of...

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