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Trump’s travel ban could make Rex Tillerson’s potential job harder, a former defense secretary says

Robert Gates addresses reporters at his last news conference as defense secretary on June 16. (Jim Watson/ AFP/Getty Images)

Former secretary of defense Robert M. Gates said Sunday that President Trump’s order to halt travel from seven Muslim-majority countries could make international affairs more difficult for Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for secretary of state.

Gates, who served as defense secretary under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and as director of the Central Intelligence Agency under president George H.W. Bush, said he expects a number of countries will have a “negative reaction” to Trump’s order. He said the order, paired with Obama’s drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and Trump’s “America First” platform, could signal that the United States is backing away from global commitments.

“I would say that the actions and the rhetoric of the new president simply continue that drumbeat of giving the impression around the world that the United States is pulling back,” Gates said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “This creates, whether we want it or not, a vacuum, and that vacuum will not be filled by benign forces. ”

Gates said he thinks that any effort to strengthen national security by improving vetting of people seeking to enter the country is reasonable and legitimate, but that it has to be done in a way “that doesn’t risk creating more enemies than threats it deters.” He said military officials are worried about the order.

“I know that former senior commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan are very concerned about this order and what it — the impact it will have on those that helped us in Iraq and Afghanistan, the interpreters, translators and so on, who were promised safe haven in the United States and now may not get it,” Gates said.