Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M. Gates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Robert Gates' book provides extraordinary insight into the behind-the-scenes working of two presidencies. The title alone is telling: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. Not a Secretary of Defense, but a secretary at war.
Nowhere in this book does Gates forget to remind us he served in the Department of Defense when the U.S. was conducting two unpopular wars. Nowhere does he denounce the two presidents he served as SecDef, Bush 43 and Obama.
Gates details his support for his troops in nearly every interaction he has with the White House and Congress. He is critical of the White House under both presidents, often railing against principals who have really very little experience with the troops, micromanagement and political realities where budgets are approved or not based not on the actual needs of wartime reality. In most cases, math trumped approved strategies.
Late in a book that would have benefited from tight editing, he takes on Congress: "Uncivil, incompetent in fulfilling basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations, micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned, often putting self (and reelection) before country--this was my view of the United States Congress." He pulls few punches.
Gates is an angry man. He is also a fair man, taking responsibility for his actions and fighting for the troops.
For all his candor, he writes: "I was put off by the way the president (Obama) closed the meeting. To his very closest advisers, he said, 'For the record, and for those of you writing your memoirs, I am not making decisions about Israel or Iran.' I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters."
And yet Gates did. While the current president is still in office. One wonders what his motive was.