Duty, Robert Gates

GatesDefense Secretary Robert Gates has written quite a compelling book about his service to his country, his service to eight Presidents, in one capacity or another. His last position, as Secretary of Defense for both Presidents Bush and Obama is detailed thoroughly in this book.
For Secretary Gates, I got the distinct feeling that serving his country was not a job, but a calling. He identified strongly with the demands and suffering of the servicemen. He saw it as his duty to protect, respect and honor them. In this regard, he did not find both White Houses equal.
While he respected both administrations pretty equally, he found the Bush White House never mistrusted the military, and as a result, he often received rousing ovations. The Obama White House, on the other hand, was often suspicious of the military arm of the government and that was, and is, reflected in his reception by the men who serve this country and in his decision making. The men certainly respect the Commander and Chief and will follow his orders, whether or not they agree with them, but Obama’s administration often disregarded the advice of the high command and senior advisors. Many times, the Obama White House reacted to events politically, rather than with regard to what might bring about the best outcome.
Robert Gates describes the contentious mood surrounding the Bush White House when he began working for “W”. Democrats virulently opposed the administration and the atmosphere between himself and Congress was also adversarial. The Secretary’s job was not easy, as it was a daunting task to try to bring a war to a successful conclusion and the emotional drain on him was enervating. He was ultimately responsible for the lives of so many and the number of injuries and deaths was mounting. When politics played a part in the decisions made for our fighting men, it disgusted him. I got the distinct feeling that his relationship with President Bush was more open and honest than the one he had with President Obama, nevertheless, he believed that most of Obama’s decisions were correct, in the long run. Hillary Clinton supported most of his decisions as did Condi Rice, and he had a good working relationship with both women.
When he describes his dealings with Israel, he exhibits an intense dislike for Bibi Netanyahu. He preferred to work with Ehud Barak. I was a bit disappointed that he brought his dislike with him when he had to negotiate with the only democracy in the Middle East, our strong ally there, especially since his (Gates) approach to Iran was different from that of Netanyahu. He seemed to favor the needs of the Arab countries and dismiss the concerns of Israel, especially with regard to Saudi Arabia. Since they had never attacked Israel, he felt they posed no threat and that arming them would not harm Israel’s security. He viewed Barak as his friend and Netanyahu as an enemy, which is not a great attitude to take with you to diplomatic meetings. Obama also showed great disrespect for Netanyahu. While they understood that Israel resides within enemy territory, they didn’t fully seem to comprehend their issues and tended to minimize their concerns, while elaborating on those of the Arabs. I thought, in that case, there was a bit of tunnel vision, perhaps on all sides.
Gates never understood the magnitude of the leaks that came out of the Obama White House, which he often believed compromised our servicemen’s safety. The administration reacted politically all the time, always in campaign mode, disregarding the potential danger of their remarks. They were hell-bent on taking all the credit for anything positive that happened while they blamed everyone else for the failures that occurred on their watch.
While Gates and Bush did not always agree, he found that George Bush took the advice of the advisers in the field, more often than not, because he was less concerned with the politics of winning than Obama’s administration was, and Obama’s advisers had very little military experience or managerial experience which also affected the decisions they made. The generals disagreed with Obama’s decisions, more often than not, and his ambassadors also hampered the efforts of the generals. There was an enormous amount of infighting between the military and the government officials and even among the members of their own staffs. Gates learned quickly that what Obama promised was not often what he did. He bowed to the lobbies that put pressure on his White House regardless of agreements he had made to do otherwise. He often broke promises and did not keep his word. Gates believed that he underestimated Karzai and Ambassador Eikenberry undermined America. We actively sought to unseat Karzai, and when he was not overthrown, we paid for our decisions with his continued mistrust of America. It was difficult to work with the inexperienced team of the Obama White House. He was also often disappointed in the way they portrayed George Bush. They were pretty unprofessional in that regard.
When Gates learned of the issues surrounding the poor treatment of the servicemen and women at the VA, predating this current scandal, he sought to fix it, but he was more concerned with the soldiers in the field who were returning with grievous injuries, rather than the treatment of soldiers who had served and were using the VA for injuries and illnesses unrelated to their military experience. Obama ignored the issue. Overall, the Obama team was inexperienced and unprepared for the monumental tasks facing them. The hierarchy was disregarded and often those with less power overruled those with greater seniority. This sometimes led to infighting and to inept decisions.
Although he managed very well during both administrations, he wanted very much to exit the White House. It was breaking him emotionally; writing letters of condolence, welcoming bodies back home, fighting with the administrations for better equipment to save lives, visiting the injured, some that could have been prevented with more modern and technologically advanced design, was wearing him down.
His feelings about Harry Reid, the Majority Leader of the Senate, were visceral. He believed his remarks were stupid, as when he announced that we lost the war, and that he served as a saboteur. He found Pelosi to be more interested in politics than in the success and outcome of the wars.
Secretary Gates believes that Obama’s style of micromanagement is detrimental but his thoughtfulness in making decisions was admirable. He and his staff often overstepped the boundaries, making announcements and decisions which were embarrassing to the generals. His courage in making the decision about the Bin Laden raid impressed Gates, but his need to take credit disturbed him, because it put many of those involved in potential danger. He often gave unauthorized commands, orders, because he and his staff were unaware of the rules of protocol. He was always acting for political gain, not the benefit of his country. Gates always supported President Obama, regardless of whether or not he agreed with his decision, even with regard to the schedule for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Decisions were often made based on the views of the junior advisers rather than more seasoned military personnel and political advisers, leading to unintended consequences, as with the Arab Spring in which the Muslim Brotherhood assumed command and Mubarak was abandoned. Still he expresses great respect and admiration for both President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Towards Vice President Biden, he does not mince words. He pretty much liked him, but he believed that every decision he made regarding foreign policy was incorrect and ill advised.
The book describes the transition from the Bush White House to the Obama White House and the enormous burden of responsibility that he bore upon his shoulders during his tenure. With regard to the national defense and security of the country, he was second to no one but the President. His descriptions of the injured and their courage when he visits hospitals, in particular the burn hospital, will tear at your heartstrings.
Because of the massive amount of detail in the book, it felt almost like a textbook about the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, in addition to the many other conflicts that arose during his tenure, like tsunamis, earthquakes, the incident in Benghazi, the WikiLeaks scandal and Julian Assange, and the continuing effort to improve relationships with our allies and our enemies which occupied most of his waking hours. Although his position was powerful, he was human and felt the pressure of the duty required of him.
My major criticism of the book is that it was almost too detailed, and possibly just a bit too much justification for his own behavior and actions, although he does also admit the mistakes he made.


About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Non-Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

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