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Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on America’s Role in the World

Inaugural Event Honors Congressman and Alum Ed Royce
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Cal State Fullerton concluded its yearlong 60th anniversary celebration last week with the CSUF 60th Anniversary Global Relations Luncheon honoring U.S. Rep. Ed Royce ’77 (business administration), a longtime supporter of his alma mater who will retire this year after 13 terms in the U.S. Congress.

Among his priorities in Congress was to reduce overall Congressional spending, however, Royce keenly understood that critical investments were needed and was instrumental in securing more than $9 million in funding for his alma mater in the areas of childhood obesity prevention, improving the teaching of math/science education, water hazard mitigation research, upgrading technology for the Ruby Gerontology Center and, after 9/11,  boosting funding for strategic language studies both at the CSU and campus levels.

In 2013, Royce was selected chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  In this capacity, he serves as one of the nation’s premier representatives to foreign governments.  However, he has never forgotten his roots at CSUF.  As chairman, Royce ensured that the committee was accessible to our students.  In 2013, he brought the committee’s first field hearing to Cal State Fullerton to explore international human trafficking and efforts to combat it. 

Understanding that a student’s collegiate experience expands past the classroom, Royce ensured that there were always internships available for CSUF students in his district and capitol offices. He also held an internship spot on the committee for a CSUF student. 

The luncheon event featured a special moderated discussion featuring former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (2006-2011), who also served for nearly 27 years in the CIA and the National Security Council. Gates served as director of the CIA from 1991-93, then served as defense secretary from 2006-11 under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Gates is also a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom — America’s highest civilian honor.

The discussion drew on Gates’ years of experience to offer an informative and pragmatic look at leadership and international relations, and was moderated by Valerie O’Regan, CSUF professor of political science and director of the university’s Intelligence Community Scholars program.

Gates went on to look at some of the challenges facing the nation, such as the competition between the U.S. and China, Russia’s objectives to divide the NATO alliance and divide and undermine the West, the importance of maintaining good relationships with America’s allies, and the recent summit with Kim Jong Un.

“I think the North Koreans were stunned by President Trump’s acceptance of the summit,” he said. “Whatever happens remains to be seen, but the threat of war is dramatically less than it was six months ago. That said, America must stay in lockstep with our allies, South Korea and Japan.

“Americans must realize that we have a geopolitical advantage when other nations partner with us, economically and militarily,” he said.

Gates described competition and rivalry between the U.S. and China that expands beyond economics. Unfortunately, Westerners often make the assumption that economic prosperity will open up China when it is often just the reverse, he explained.

As for the Iran nuclear deal, Gates acknowledged that although it was flawed, President Trump may have made a mistake by walking away from the deal as it may signal that the U.S. is walking away from its European allies.