But the greatest threat to national security is within the White House and Congress, he says.

The U.S. has “badly misjudged what we have called ‘the Arab Spring.’” Citing those and other revolutions, such as Cuba’s, “only one turned out reasonably well in the first decades and that was our own,” former U.S. secretary of defense Robert Gates told oil and gas executives Thursday in Houston.

Gates, whose Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War was released in January, spoke at NAPE Expo’s annual fund-raiser for veteran programs. Charities each receiving $100,000 donations this year are The Mission Continues, Lone Survivor Foundation, Support-A-Soldier and Canine Companions for Independence.

What complicates reaching peaceful discourse within Islamist countries that have undergone revolution in the past few years is the multitude of factions in conflict, he said: Shia versus Sunni, reformers versus authoritarians, secularists versus Islamists and, ultimately, whether resolution can be found in the absence of oppression.

As for Iran, it “is determined to develop nuclear-weapon capability.” The goal pre-dates the Iranian revolution, meaning it transcends the government, which makes it difficult to believe the thinking would change with any shift in governance.

What is possible is “a nuclear-armed Iran instigating a nuclear-arms race in the most volatile region of the world…That’s why we have to do everything we can to prevent that eventuality.” The U.S. should not revise what it expects from Iran and the country should be held to a six-month deadline as the Iranians are great at slow-playing, which could compromise U.S. conviction in its requirements.

Other threats are North Korea, of course, which has a handful of crude, nuclear weapons. Also, the discovery of oil in the South China Sea pits China against neighbors in ownership claims.

But “the biggest threat to American national security today is found within the two square miles of the White House and Capitol Hill,” he said.

In his last years as secretary of defense, he encountered “internal conflicts within the executive branch” coupled with “parochial interests of so many members of Congress” as well as war within the Pentagon itself. “Over time, the broad dysfunction in Washington wore me down.” Members of Congress, with a few exceptions, have become “uncivil, incompetent in fulfilling constitutional duties…, thin-skinned, often putting (re-election) before country.”

His service under President George W. Bush and President Obama brought light to “two far different men.” Bush questioned advisors and took them to task; their loyalty to country first was not doubted. Of Obama’s advisors, Obama “was deeply suspicious of their actions” and intentions.

Also, Bush “supported the troops…and the mission….” Meanwhile, Obama “opposed the mission…He rarely told the troops…why their sacrifice was necessary…

“It all took a growing emotional toll on me…No one who had been in combat could walk away without scars.”

He read hometown newspaper articles about fallen American servicemen and -women before writing letters to their families, wanting to get to know each of them.

“My wars are over. For those who fought…their war will continue for the rest of their lives.”

–Nissa Darbonne, Author, The American Shales; Editor-at-Large, Oil and Gas Investor, OilandGasInvestor.com, Oil and Gas Investor This Week, A&D Watch,A-Dcenter.com, UGcenter.com. Contact Nissa at ndarbonne@hartenergy.com.