Mr. Gates became the most senior former military leader in recent days to endorse renaming the 10 Army installations in the South, including Fort Bragg, Fort Benning and Fort Hood, joining Gen. David H. Petraeus, the retired commander of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a bipartisan majority of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mr. Trump slapped down the current Pentagon leadership for expressing openness to such a change.
The clash over base names came as the relationship between Mr. Trump and the military has soured. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper publicly spoke out against the president’s desire to send active-duty troops into American cities to put down demonstrations that in some cases turned violent. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly apologized for participating in Mr. Trump’s photo op holding a Bible in front of a church damaged in the protests.
In the interview on Sunday, Mr. Gates said he, too, would have opposed sending regular Army troops into the streets. “I think it would have been a mistake,” he said, contrasting them with the National Guard, which is often deployed during natural disasters or civil strife. “Their primary training is to kill people, not crowd control, not law enforcement. They are trained to kill our enemies.”
Mr. Gates spoke as he kicked off a tour to promote his new book, “Exercise of Power,” in which he argues that the United States since the Cold War has been too quick to employ military force and has not done enough to build up other tools of foreign policy, including diplomacy, international aid, cyberactivities, communication and economics. Having served eight presidents, including as C.I.A. director under President George Bush, Mr. Gates has been called one of the most admired public servants in modern times by Democrats and Republicans.
He uses the book to analyze American foreign policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union, identifying successes and mistakes by all four post-Cold War presidents, and some of his own errors of judgment. But the lessons seem particularly timely for Mr. Trump, who has broken with presidents of both parties with an “America First” policy shunning the country’s traditional international leadership role.