Gates on the conflict in Syria ahead of the president's visit to the Middle East

Gates talks about Syria and the military 04:15

President Donald Trump embarks on his first foreign trip this Friday. During the first leg of the trip, Mr. Trump is expected to meet with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Israel and discuss a variety of issues central to the region. Chief among those topics will be the ongoing civil war in Syria and the fight against ISIS.

Last week for "Face the Nation," moderator John Dickerson sat down with former Secretary of State Robert Gates and the two spoke about The United States' Syria policy under President Trump.  Dickerson asked Gates in particular what he thought of the president's decision to launch missile strikes against a Syrian airbase in response to allegations that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own citizens.

Robert Gates on Putin 11:03

"I think it sent a useful message." Gates said of the missile strikes. "But it is still a one-off, it's not a strategy."

Gates noted that the Trump administration's strategy in Syria appears to be focused on destroying ISIS. According to Gates the political settlement with the Assad regime are "secondary."

Having served under eight presidents, the former Secretary of Defense was also asked about the president's management of the military.  Dickerson asked him about President Trump's decision to give the military more ownership in their operations and if it poses any potential threats.

"I think the president should draw the broad guidelines and provide the strategy," Gate said and added, "but then give the military the flexibility to actually carry out that strategy as necessary."

However, Gates stated that there should be a "good reporting mechanism back to the president."  Referring to his time as Secretary of Defense during both the Bush and Obama administrations Gates acknowledged that he didn't tell the president every time he would deploy forces unless the deployment involve combat or putting American lives at risk.

"I never thought it was a good idea to surprise the president of the United States."

For more of our interview with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates click here.

  • Tim Perry

    CBS News reporter covering the White House.