Charlotte and I saw former Defense Secretary Dr. Robert Gates last night in Dallas at SMU's Tate Lecture Series. CNN's David Gergen interviewed the man who's spent the last five decades of his life in public service - from the CIA, to the Pentagon with a lot of stops in between.
Secretary Gates is a living legend (he's one of only a handful of living recipients of this country's highest honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom) and he's served five presidents going all the way back to Carter. His resume is solid gold and when he speaks world leaders listen.
Of course, having the most powerful military in the world at your disposal is a great way to get global attention. But, Gates comes across as more of a walk-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick kind of guy. He fielded Gergen's questions - and those from an almost capacity crowd at SMU's McFarlin Auditorium - with the same ease as Josh Hamilton taking batting practice.
He knocked every answer out of the park with a measured cadence that was one part experienced diplomat, one part pragmatist and one part Aggie (No mean comments please - I mean that in a GOOD way).
If you think the only threats to our national security are a zombie apocalypse and Iranian nuclear weapons, you're only half-right. Dr. Gates pulled back the curtain on his top picks for terror and he never mentioned zombies. Not. Even. Once.
Here are the four things that keep Dr. Gates up at night.
It's looking like Vladimir Putin is angling to become Russia's version of Texas governor-for-life, Rick Perry.
It's another country with terrible problems - an unstable economy, shrinking population and the distinction of being the only industrialized power with a declining life expectancy rate. Worst of all, it's looking like Vladimir Putin is angling to become Russia's version of Texas governor-for-life, Rick Perry.
Watch for: "Vladimir Putin will return to the Russian presidency soon - and keep it at least until 2024. This move puts Russia in retrograde - going back to the bad old days. Any country where the Prime Minister and the President get to decide who will be president isn't much of a democracy."
China may not be the United States' best friend, but the chances of a war with this country are "very remote". There will, however, be "incidents" that will bring some uncomfortable moments.
Watch for: "More territorial disputes - like the recent one with Japan - are likely. It's difficult to predict what the People's Liberation Army (PLA) will do next."
Gate's greatest national security concern comes from within our own borders. If you're thinking homegrown terrorists or splinter groups, you're missing the point. Dr. Gates believes the greatest threat facing us today is the "dissolving center" in American politics. After serving in Washington D.C. for more than 50 years, he's disheartened because he sees leadership replaced by gamesmanship.
Watch for: More gridlock. "Compromise continues to be a 'dirty word' in our political system. We have to remember that good ideas can come from the left as well as the right. It's time to move beyond this political zero sum game, where 'I win' and 'you lose'. Either we all win, or we all lose."
Oh, and about that Aggie pragmatism? Secretary Gates said our hope for a brighter future may come from academia.
Texas A&M recently opened a campus in Qatar. The campus on the Arabian peninsula is bringing the "best parts" of American culture to this middle eastern country. Among the "best parts" is the requirement that every student must take the university's core curriculum -- which includes a course in Texas politics and Texas history.
I can't wait to hear the first graduates say Gig 'em! in Arabic.