Five Takeaways from Gates’ Tell-All Memoir
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has dominated talk of This Town in recent days after advance copies of his tell-all memoir made their way to longtime Washington, D.C., reporters.
The 594-page book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” in stores Jan. 14, contains scathing rebukes of Congress and the White House, many of which are aimed at the Obama administration.
Gates, a longtime CIA officer who rose to become the agency’s director, was tapped for the top Pentagon post in late 2006 by then-President George W. Bush, a Republican, to replace Donald Rumsfeld. He was asked to stay on by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and remained in the position until mid-2011.
Gates, 70, is viewed as one of the more effective defense secretaries in the modern era. He oversaw the surge and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, fired officials in the wake of military scandals such as the mistreatment of troops at Walter Reed Medical Center and the Air Force’s mistaken transport of nuclear missiles, and pushed the military to buy billions of dollars worth of blast-resistant trucks to better protect troops while ending production of fifth-generation F-22 fighter jets.
Suffice to say, his decision to publish a memoir — and one that criticizes a sitting president, nonetheless — has made headlines. The following takeaways are based on accounts of the book published by The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.
1. He has acting chops.
Gates loathed his job but acted the part deftly. In public appearances, he was resolved and unwavering. A 2009 profile of him by the CBS program, “60 Minutes,” reveals a glimpse of his dissatisfaction when he talks about the weighty responsibility that comes with sending troops to war. “It’s not a job anybody should like,” then later emphasized, “No, I don’t enjoy my job.” According to an article by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, he was even more direct in an e-mail he sent to a friend before leaving office: “People have no idea how much I detest this job.”
2. He respects Hillary Clinton.
If former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decides to run for president in 2016, her campaign wouldn’t have to look far to find a ringing endorsement from Gates. While he criticizes her and Obama for opposing the surge in Iraq on political grounds, Gates describes her as follows: “I found her smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world,” according to Woodward.
3. He doesn’t care for Joe Biden or “son-of-a-bitch” lawmakers.
Gates accuses Vice President Joe Biden of stirring distrust between administration officials and military leaders. He also writes that Biden is personally likable but “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” according to an article by The New York Times’ Thom Shanker, who was the first to report on the contents of the book.
Gates felt congressional hearings were like a “kangaroo court” and daydreamed about quitting right then and there. “I was tempted to stand up, slam the briefing book shut and quit on the spot. The exit lines were on the tip of my tongue: I may be the secretary of defense, but I am also an American citizen, and there is no son of a bitch in the world who can talk to me like that. I quit. Find somebody else,” according to an essay that was adapted from the book and ran in The Wall Street Journal.
4. He likens Obama to Nixon.
Gates seethed against what he saw as micromanagement of the military by the White House’s National Security Staff and even compared the Obama administration to the Nixon administration. “His White House was by far the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost,” he wrote in his essay. “For an NSS staff member to call a four-star combatant commander or field commander would have been unthinkable when I worked at the White House—and probably cause for dismissal. It became routine under Obama.”
5. He’s independent — and contradictory.
Gates was known for being independent. While he worked in Washington, D.C., his wife, Becky, lived in Washington state. He did his own laundry and cooked his own meals. After getting home and finishing office homework, his nightly routine was to “write condolence letters to the families of the fallen, pour a stiff drink, wolf down a frozen dinner or carry out,” according to Woodward’s account.
Yet despite his criticisms of the current administration, Gates at the end of the book writes that the president “was right” in major policy decisions regarding Afghanistan, according to Woodward. What’s more, he’s opened himself up to be accused of not only being contradictory, but hypocritical. Per Woodward’s colleague Juliet Eilperin, Gates was miffed when Obama ended a meeting by telling his advisers to not distort his words if they planned on writing books that included details about the event.
Gates reportedly wrote, “I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters.”