Even buried in the reminiscences about interagency processes that yield obscure policy outcomes is a self-portrait of a deeply emotional and often very angry man. He hates his job. He despises most member of congress., he is at war with his own bureaucracy. He is furious at close allies. He despises micromanaging white house staffers and loathes the arrogant political advisers and sycophantic neophytes who surround the second president he served.
The wartime leader on the edge of a nervous breakdown who wailed in anguish, “God help me to do my duty”. One might sense these a desirable set of attitudes in a SOD: compassion for the troops, hostility to those whose own efforts and character do no measure up to the sacrifices of those troops, humility about his own abilities to discharge overwhelming responsibilities.
Gates himself acknowledges in his memoirs “Duty” reflects his insistence that he accepted a position he found distasteful to the extreme. And that he remained in it only out of a sense of obligation to the country. Why then did he leave it? Because “I could afford the luxury of sentiment, and at times, it overwhelmed me.” It is not that such an acute, personal awareness of loss makes leaders timid and reluctant to use force: as Gates points out, he was the guy signing the orders that sent solders into harm’s way. The general like the secretary set up an impossible psychological conflict.
Robert E. Lee make this point: “to be a good soldier you must love the army. But to be a good officer you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love. This is a very hard thing to do. No other profession requires it. That is one reason why there are son very few good officers. Although there are many good men.”
His account of the later years of the Bush adm, is unremarkable and uncontroversial. He disagreed with the president on some things, but admired his determination and grit, recognized his intelligence and broadly speaking accepted the tenets of his policy.
Gates relationship with obama and his adm was fare more fraught. He agreed to stay on and he did so less reluctantly than he made out at the time, or even that he remembers. Bush he seemed to be enjoying a job at which he was very good. But despite some compliments to obama for having care in making decisions, intelligences, a cool head and some level of personal concern for the troops
Gates is scathing about the presidents lack of interest in the wars in which he was engaged. Obama cared passionately about the suppression of military leaks and repealing “the don’t ask don’t tell” policy and that was it. For the rest, obama was “deeply suspicious of senior officers actions and recommendations and considered time spent with them merely a necessary chore.
Bush was determines to win. When the commander in chief by Gates reckoning, really did not care about winning: “when soldiers put their lives on the line, they need to know that the commander in chief who sent them in harm’s way believes in their mission”. Obama, Gates makes quite clear, did not, and he was not about to pretend that he did.
The ambivalent, the portrayal of the denizens of the white house who surrounded the president is almost unremittingly negative. Biden is in so many words an amiable fool who belligerently tells the generals that they “should consider the presidents decision as an order”. The white house staff are in Gates view, a bunch of hacks and amateurs whose only concern is domestic policy, even Sect of State Clinton and Obama admitted to each other that their despised predecessors Iraq surge really worked and that their refusal to acknowledge as much and their own opposition to it, reflected mere political calculations.
The new team came to power as they were ignorant of the realities of war. Though profound believers in “the power of obama rehetoric”. The National Security Council staff felt free to run around their boss retired Marine general James Jones.
He would join his team in their situation Room bull sessions devoted to heaping scorn on the Bush adm, ill-informed and unprofessional behavior that caused Gates to wonder whether it had occurred to any of them that they were being offensive to him and to Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of JCS who had played a large role in conceiving and implementing those policies. It was also directed at one professional who stayed on, retired lieutenant general Douglas Lute. Gates said. “I can add that few public servants gave more of themselves, more honestly and faithfully than Lute”.
Gates, who clearly wishes not to lash obama too severely, is thus reverting to the classic trope of blaming the king’s evil counselors, when it is much more likely that he National Security Council staff behaved as it did because that was the way Obama wanted it.
Gates often slips, such as when he admits that Obama came into office mistrusting the military, making no efforts to get to know them and always suspecting them of boxing him in. Gates talks of white house double-crosses, breached of faith and a president “who doesn’t trust his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his”.
White House is merely a building: the people in it are either doing what the president wants or what they think the president wants. And responsibility rests squarely with the commander in chief. If Gates damns anyone here, it is Obama, whether he wishes to or not. The publication of his memoir now is a breach of faith and a violation of propriety that is hard to understand. If Gates believes that Obama is a disastrous president, surely he should have published this book in 2012, when it might have influenced the election.
If he thinks he can change the president’s modus operandi and world-view by publishing it now, he is deluding himself.
Iranian crowds took to the streets to oppose the regime in 2009, Gates sided with the ever-cautious CIA analysts and State Dept officials who said that speaking out would only make the regime worse. He admits in retrospect that his view was wrong. He advocated a strategy in AFG that formally renounced nation building while building up a powerful AFG army to defeat the Taliban. He was a superb administrator who took charge of a dysfunctional Pentagon and Defense and found that the Joint Chiefs of Staff was in thrall to a “damnable peacetime mindset” through a Herculean effort, Gates forced the system to build and ship tens of thousands of purpose-built armored cares (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles or MRAP’S) to Iraq and AFG.
Shame on the bureaucrats for failing to get the MRAP or something like it to the field in 2004 rather than in 2007—and everlasting credit to Gates for ramming it through
Nothing became him so much as his willingness to hold senior officers and officials accountable by dismissing them form office.
His job was not to build a military for the next tow decades but to keep the war effort together..
Sources—weekly standard, eliot cohen