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'Duty' by Robert Gates: Petulant potshots

Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton all get slammed in the new memoir from the former defense secretary. But the figure hurt the most by this whiny tell-all is the author.
Bob Gates talks about his experience as Secretary of Defense in "Duty."

Bob Gates talks about his experience as Secretary of Defense in "Duty."

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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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jan 10, 8:50 a.m. Inappropriate

And all this started with Brzezinsi/ Carter's destabilization of Afghanistan in 1979 to draw in the Russian bear so he would bloody himself + Reagan + CIA Casey creating the Mujahadin who eventually became Al Queda after they were dropped after having done the job with US provided Stinger missiles in bringing down a lot of choppers. And what arises out of this is ye old Taliban, the expression of utter disgust with the wonders of Modernism that the Brits, the US and the Soviets brought to their ancient world. Alas. An unutterable mess that will be around for generations. Sowing dragons teeth, Uncle Sam is excellent at it.

mikerol

Posted Fri, Jan 10, 8:51 a.m. Inappropriate

"...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."

Yes, Biden and Congress come in for scorn, but though Gates also criticizes Obama and Hillary Clinton on some counts, he praises them on others. Further, Gates doesn't just complain about Democrats; he also critiques President Bush's performance.

Posted Fri, Jan 10, 9:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Response to early comments:

The U.S. involvement in Afghanistan began even before Carter/Brzezinski. We really got into the soup when the infamous Rep. Charlie Wilson of Texas worked thru back channels to get Stinger missiles and other weapons into the hands of bin Laden and the Taliban---all in the cause of countering the Soviets. Obama was responding to a Pentagon proposal, supported by Gates, when he agreed to a short-term "surge" in Afghanistan to stabilize the situation prior to a longer-term withdrawal. In this case Gates faults Obama for doing what he urged him to do.

Judy Lightfoot is correct that Gates also faults Bush administration missteps---though not as severely as he critiques those in the current administration. Understandably, media have focused on the incumbent president and his team. In mentioning VP Biden, I said that he was no policy intellectual but was equal to or better intellectually than several recent VPs and VP candidates. I should also have mentioned that his predecessor, Dick Cheney, was regarded as a policy intellectual but had a malign and destructive influence on policy.
Biden is no genius but he is not malign or destructive.

Obama awarded Gates a Presidential Medal of Freedom at the end of his service. Hard to understand Gates' bill of complaints, many involving classified matters, so soon after his departure to private life. Completely contrary to what one would have expected of him.

Posted Mon, Jan 13, 6:17 p.m. Inappropriate

"Biden is no genius but he is not malign or destructive" ... exactly how the term PETER PRINCIPLE was founded. People who are not malin or destructive often cause more destruction because of their naivete, not simply because they aren't smart enough for the job promotion.

Posted Fri, Jan 10, 11:07 a.m. Inappropriate

Gates is an intelligent and experienced executive. He is also a very nuanced writer. Considering the source of most of the information, I would suggest holding off the "potshots" until the book is released. Gates has an NPR interview coming out soon.

Posted Fri, Jan 10, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm looking forward to buying and reading this book. Robert Gates is an honest individual who honorably served both Republican and Democratic administrations for over 30 years.

While I haven't read it (obviously) the excerpts of his criticism about Congress and this amateurish and overtly-political administration ring true.

Posted Fri, Jan 10, 2:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Senator Jeff Flake criticized the Gates book from a slightly different angle; he predicted that books like this will make administration recruitment of opposite party individuals less likely for cabinet positions and, as a consequence, make partisan battles more intense. I am sure the Senator is a Republican and I think he represents Arizona and, if I am remembering correctly, is on the big military committees. I think he makes a convincing case as does Mr. Van Dyke.

kieth

Posted Fri, Jan 10, 4:30 p.m. Inappropriate

I understand Senator Flake's point. There is a good case to be made that the president should not go into every cabinet meeting worrying that something he/she says will appear in the inevitable book that nearly all cabinet members write after leaving Washington. However, we send these people to Washington and we have a right to know (within reason) what goes on there. I have no doubt that 95% of Congress and [any] White House would love to operate completely unfettered by the demands of voters. Anything that brings some sunlight on their machinations is to me a desirable outcome.

Posted Sun, Jan 12, 11:41 a.m. Inappropriate

With all due respect, Ted, YOU are the problem.

I have ordered Gates book and will read it as soon as it comes out. Publishing an analysis when all you have read is the dueling leaks demeans Mr. Gates and your own credibility.

Why bother?

Posted Sun, Jan 12, 11:53 a.m. Inappropriate

With all due respect, Seattle Jew, the early-release excerpts are important. When you read the book, please check to see if they are contained in it. If not, that is news.

Posted Sun, Jan 12, 11:57 a.m. Inappropriate

With all due respect, Seattle Jew, pre-release of excerpts is quite normal in publishing and the excerpts are fair game for comment. If you find the excerpts are invented and do not appear in the book, that will be news.

Posted Sun, Jan 12, 4:54 p.m. Inappropriate

It is also common to read reviews that start out, "… received my copy of XXX.." isn't that the standard? I missed your disclaimer. I appreciate SeattleJew's corrective.

kieth

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