Gates Is No Rumsfeld (Updates)

Bob Gaes

UPDATE III:

The Hill reports that President Obama is downplaying the charges his former Secretary of Defense makes in his memoir.

Obama dismissed questions about his commitment to the war in Afghanistan, after Gates wrote in his book that Obama did not believe in his own war strategy.

“Just as I have continued to have faith in our mission, most importantly, I’ve had unwavering confidence in our troops and their performance in some of the most difficult situations imaginable,” Obama said.

“And that job is not yet done. And I do think it’s important for Americans to recognize that we still have young men and women in harm’s way, along with coalition partners who are continuing to make sacrifices, and we need to see this job all the way through,” he said.

Obama also sidestepped a question about whether Gates should have waited to publish his memoir until the conclusion of his presidency.

“During his tenure here, Secretary Gates was an outstanding secretary of Defense, a good friend of mine, and I’ll always be grateful for his service,” Obama said.

UPDATE II:

Here is a funny tidbit from Gates’ memoir which — disclaimer alert — I haven’t read yet as the book is not available yet.

Commenting on Gates’ “matter-of-fact, frills-free” writing, “the kind who can write with no irony…” David Weigel at Slate describes a 2010 meeting with the president and top brass on which Gates writes in his “Duty” memoir:

I was put off by the way the president 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 any decisions about Israel or Iran. Joe, you be my witness.” I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters.

To this, Weigel quips, “Yes, what would give the president that idea?”

Priceless.

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UPDATE I:

One of the repeated threads in Gate’s memoir seems to be, according to several reviews (Disclaimer: I have not yet read his book), that he was frequently “seething,” running out of patience,” hating every minute of his job, asking himself “what am I doing here?” But, POLITICO says, “he kept almost everything behind the poker face he’d learned to wear during decades in the spy business.”

POLITICO continues, “Robert Gates’ tenure running the Pentagon might go down as the greatest performance in acting history” and that, according to Gates himself, “The temptation to stand up, slam the briefing book shut and quit on the spot recurred often.”

As mentioned below, my disappointment with Gates is, if he was having such serious concerns about our nation’s policies and strategies in pursuing two wars, why he did not speak up and, if not listened to, why he did not resign — instead of just “seething,” keeping up that poker face, keeping up “the greatest performance in acting history.”

Philip Ewing, in his “The secret life of Robert Gates,” attempts to answer that question without much success, in my opinion. So, I will have to read the book to see if I can answer that question.
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Original Post:

When Donald Rumsfeld came out with his “Known and Unknown,” a score-settling, I-know-it-all-even-the-unknowable memoir, I immediately did a non-review — I never read the book — by providing three excerpts from those who had the stomach to actually read the book.

Well aware of the unfairness of doing so, I did make the following apology: “I know that ‘reviewing’ or discussing a book without reading it is the epitome of arrogance, ignorance and so many other ‘ances’” and proceeded to do the non-review.

My non-review was easy because I did not like the man and I despised his views and policies. The word “respect” or rather “disrespect” comes to mind when discussing Rumsfeld, but I will leave it that, after having written numerous pieces reflecting the latter. For example read here.

Now that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has also published his memoir “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary At War,” the former word “respect” comes to mind, but also “surprise,” “disappointment” and “sadness.”

I have always respected Mr. Gates.

I have respected him, a Republican, for his bipartisanship and for being a team player; for his support for the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (although Gates now claims in his book that Obama had “blindsided Admiral Mullen and [him]” by rushing the announcement); for controlling the Pentagon’s budget and many other issues and achievements.

Most of all, I respect Mr. Gates for what I believe is his genuine love and respect for the military. Greg Gaffe describes a 2010 meeting with the troops at a “bare-bones combat outpost in the violent mountains of eastern Afghanistan”:

…speaking to troops clustered around him, Robert M. Gates was overcome by an uncharacteristic flood of emotion.

The soldiers in their dirt-splattered uniforms had been ordered to stop whatever they were doing and listen to the defense secretary, who, with his neatly parted white hair, khakis and starched button-down shirt, looked as if he had helicoptered in from another planet. “I feel a personal responsibility for each and every one of you,” Gates said. “I feel the sacrifice and hardship and losses more than you’ll ever imagine. I just want to thank you and tell you how much I love you.”

That is the Robert M. Gates I respect.

At a more personal level, I was — and still am — disappointed that Gates did not support awarding the so clearly well deserved Medal of Honor to Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta .

But I am more than disappointed, more than surprised, at the former Secretary’s attacks on the Obama administration’s Afghanistan and Iraq policy — a policy of which he was part.

Gates apparently disagreed with the President’s policies and decisions affecting sending our forces into combat, policies and decisions that were in fact life-and-death decisions affecting thousands upon thousands of our troops — the most grave decisions that a Secretary of Defense can be part of making.

Apparently, Gates had serious doubts about the commander-in-chief’s commitment to the wars — the “good” and the “ bad” one — and about the President’s “support for [the troops'] mission”; had serious disagreements on strategy and serious concern over the course of those wars.

Bob Woodward writes that, according to the notes of a participant at a meeting where Obama laid out the rationale for the Afghan surge and withdrawal time table and “asked everyone involved to sign on, signaling agreement,” Gates is quoted as telling the President, “You sound the bugle…Mr. President, and Mike [Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] and I will be the first to charge the hill.”

Well, Mr. Gates, here is where we come to the “sadness” part.

I am saddened that you, Secretary of Defense, the highest-level person in the country next only to the Vice President, having such serious doubts and disagreements on our nation’s war-and-peace policies, did not speak up loudly, did not offer to resign if not listened to, but rather chose to listen to the bugle and charge the hill — and are now second-guessing that bugle call.

Mr. Gates, you are no Rumsfeld, and I say this in an affectionate manner, I still respect you, but I am truly saddened.

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist