- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday he’s impressed with some of the national security picks that President Trump has made, but that Mr. Trump’s brash public persona is still an ongoing factor in terms of perceptions around the world.

“I think that you have sort of two parallel universes, if you will,” Mr. Gates said on NBC’s “Today” program. “You [have] got the public commentary, tweeting and so on and so forth that’s a little mind-boggling sometimes.”

“But then many people talk about meeting with the president in private and having very serious, very thoughtful conversations. That was the case when I met with him in December,” he said.

“So I think when I look at the team he’s putting around him in national security — Tillerson and Mattis and Kelly and so on — and I hear about the meetings in private, I think he can exercise very sound leadership,” Mr. Gates said.

He was referring to Rex Tillerson, Mr. Trump’s pick for secretary of state, current Defense Secretary James Mattis and current Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

“The problem is that the first impacts the second in terms of perceptions around the world,” Mr. Gates said.

He said Mr. Trump’s emphasis in his inaugural address of an “America First” message reinforces allies’ impressions “that the United States is pulling back from engagement around the world.”

Mr. Gates also said he has “no doubt” the Russians tried to intervene in last year’s election and that he conveyed his concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin to Mr. Trump when he met with him.

Mr. Gates, a former director of central intelligence, also said Mr. Trump’s recent trip to Langley was an “important gesture of respect,” but that he didn’t know what Mr. Trump was talking about when the president said there might be another chance to “keep the oil” in Iraq.

“I have no clue what he’s talking about,” Mr. Gates said. “I think that’s not going to happen.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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