Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War

Article excerpt

Duty: A REvIEW AND COMMENTARy gates, robert M^ Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War^ Newbur yport, Mass^: Knopf, 2014^ 640pp^ $25

The title of Duty could easily be So You Want to Be the Secretary of War, Violence, and Suffering? gates's memoir takes the glamour out of the position and makes sure the reader grasps just how personally drain- ing and ethically frustrating the job can be^ It is a book worth reading, if only to learn more about the scope of the issues that typically face any conscientious secretary of Defense^

To bring that point home, here are the more important challenges and issues that gates had to deal with across two presidential administrations: scal- ing back the U^s^ military presence in Iraq; scaling up that same presence in afghanistan; defending two controver- sial war policies before an often hostile Congress; taking care of military person- nel injured in Iraq and afghanistan; explaining to families of those killed in both wars why their deaths mattered; building personal relationships with counterparts in other governments; dampening the negative effects of "turf wars" between White House staff and officials (both uniformed and civilian) in the Defense Department; sponsoring the development of antimine vehicles that the career acquisition people in the army did not want; tailoring the organization of U^s^ and allied forces in afghanistan; fostering an organi- zational climate that would allow the military services to move beyond "don't ask, don't tell"; and serving as a trusted adviser to two very different presi- dents from opposing political parties^

I find the list daunting^ robert gates too found it daunting, but he took on those challenges and issues with energy, patience, persistence, and loyalty to the republic^ Duty is just the right title for his memoir^ It is what gates swore to do, and his memoir is an effort to describe his role and the role of other actors in some very crucial events^

The comments I have already read about the book focus on gates's criti- cal opinions of important personalities, including Presidents george W^ Bush and Barack obama, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and several senior military officers^ If those criti- cisms are all one comes away with after reading this book, the more important stories told by gates have been unfor- tunately missed^ If you read the entire book, you can step back and say, "Two presidents gambled by committing the United states to two different wars, and both presidents needed someone to come along and 'fix things' when those two bets didn't play out as the presidents expected and hoped." gates was "the fixer"-dedicated, a hard worker, disciplined, organized, experi- enced, well connected, and intelligent^

gates was not in on the planning for the war against Iraq^ as he says on page 568, "Had I been secretary of defense during the winter of 2002-2003, I don't know whether I would have recommended that President Bush invade Iraq." However, gates does not second-guess President Bush: "It would be disingenu- ous to say with ten years' hindsight that I would have been opposed, especially since I publicly supported the decision at the time." Moreover, after citing all the negative aspects of the war against Iraq, gates says, "I cannot honestly claim I would have foreseen any or all of that." In any case, when he took over from Donald rumsfeld, he set aside his own personal concerns and embarked on a campaign to support President Bush^ gates agreed with former secretary of Defense William Perry that "the consequences of failure in Iraq would be catastrophic-much more consequen- tial than failure in vietnam." as gates argues, "a defeat of the U^s^ military and an Iraqi descent into a vicious civil war that likely would engage other coun- tries in the region would be disastrous, destabilizing the region and dramatically boosting Iran's power and prestige."

as President Bush's secretary of Defense, gates had three goals with regard to Iraq: defend Bush's decision in late 2006 (even before gates became Defense secretary) to "surge" U^s^ forces into Iraq, thereby allowing the troops time to achieve the president's goals; maximize "the possibility of keep- ing a substantial number of troops in Iraq for years to come"; and establish "a long-term security and strategic relationship with Iraq. …

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