Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, once semi-retired on a farm near Mount Vernon — and a one-time UW commencement speaker — has set off a bombshell with his new memoir, "Duty," to be officially released next week.
Gates, now heading the Boy Scouts, served in various national-security roles for American presidents of both political parties. He was known for his discretion, conceded to be the most professional and able member of President Obama's first-term Cabinet. The last person one would have expected to vent his frustrations in print so soon after leaving government service, hitting President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Council staff and the U.S. Congress with verbal body blows.
Reading through the book's already released excerpts, you can see that Gates, throughout his service in the Obama Administration, was a man barely restraining his frustrations and decidedly not enjoying the Defense Secretary job he said at the time he truly liked.
Among Gates' complaints?
Although sometimes praising them on other counts, he faults Obama, Clinton and the NSC staff for their obsession with domestic political considerations in the conduct of national security/foreign policy. Gates expresses shock that Obama and Clinton admitted in his presence that as Senators (in 2007) their positions on Iraq policy were driven by their competition for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Gates dismisses Joe Biden, former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as a meddler, enemy of the military and consistently wrong, over decades, on just about every international issue.
He alleges that Obama's White House and NSC staff were the most intrusive and political since the days of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. He faults the president, in particular, for ordering a "surge" in Afghanistan — which led to American casualties — while really wanting a withdrawal. It was clear, writes Gates, that Obama distrusted the senior military commanders he himself had chosen. Gates also faults Obama for embarrassing the military brass and making hostile comments toward them in official meetings.
He characterizes the Congress as a collection of dopes, self servers and posturers and describes how, in giving congressional testimony, he could barely restrain his impulses to get up and walk out of the room.
The released excerpts portray a man, Gates, who was outwardly composed but often raging beneath the surface.
My own reaction to the book: It no doubt will be a best seller and yield big royalties and lecture fees for Gates. But, one suspects, that Gates may come to regret disclosing previously-classified information and venting so forcefully so soon after leaving a position of such high trust.
His principal charges will come as no surprise to those who have followed policy these past five years, making his reaction to them seem a bit over wrought. One is reminded of actor Claude Rains' famous statement in the movie "Casablanca": "Gambling in Casablanca? I am shocked, shocked!"
We knew that Obama, on entering the presidency, was conflicted about the U.S. role in Afghanistan. His lengthy policy review, at the outset of his administration, resulted in his approval of a Pentagon-recommended surge strategy there. But the surge clearly was seen as a short-term means to achieve stability while, at the same time, planning for later withdrawal. (My view: The U.S. interest would have been better served if the president had ordered a withdrawal at the time of the policy review.)
We also knew that Obama, relatively inexperienced in foreign affairs, would want to be sure that the Defense and State departments and the CIA were not freelancing, but instead following his policy guidelines. National Security Council staffs, historically, have kept watch accordingly. Gates would have us believe that such NSC interventions were not only a nuisance, but perhaps dishonorable.
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