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DUTY by Robert M. Gates


Memoirs of a Secretary at War

by Robert M. Gates

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-307-95947-8
Publisher: Knopf

Former Secretary of Defense Gates doesn’t exactly bare all in this politically charged memoir, but he doesn’t pull many punches, either.

It’s clear, from just the first few pages, that the job of the head civilian administrator of the military (second to the commander in chief, that is, the president) is a thoroughly political one. It becomes clearer, as the tale progresses, that some politicians are more palatable than others. Gates maintains a mostly respectful tone when it comes to the current commander in chief, though it’s quite evident that his views are qualified: In trying to explain the personalities of Afghanistan commander Stanley McChrystal and Iraq commander David Petraeus and their dynamics with President Barack Obama, Gates writes, “my assurances fell pretty much on deaf ears, which I found enormously frustrating and discouraging.” Gates also unleashes on the current Congress: “Uncivil, incompetent in fulfilling basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned, too often putting self (and reelection) before country.” Pow! The author emerges as a canny administrator who struck a number of right notes in entering the administration, first under George W. Bush and then Obama. He came alone, without a phalanx of support staff, and he came prepared to speak his mind, not disguising his belief that “the Pentagon was buying too many weapons more suited to the Cold War than to the twenty-first century.” Yet, he was not quite able to transform the military, as he had envisioned, into the fast-moving, lean force of the future, so that what we have today remains vast, overfed and, yes, thoroughly politicized.

A smart and plainspoken—if sometimes obviously self-serving—insider’s view of the military-industrial-governmental complex. Sure to spark plenty of discussion inside the Beltway.