I’ll admit that all the media coverage of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ new book, “Duty,” is tempting. There he is, complete with post-retirement cervical collar, promoting (and defending) his book’s evidently withering critique of Obama administration policy in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Even harder is resisting the urge to devour all the analysis and reviews done to date, all based on excerpts from a book none of the writers have actually read.
As well, Gates is superbly prepared, by academic training, personal experience, and previous published writing to write just this book!
And yet, I’ll pass. First and foremost, because this book is WAY too early. Good on him for agreeing to serve two Presidents, providing a vital voice of experience and leadership across administrations in a time of war. But in my mind, serving a President, whether or not you serve to the end of their administration, should obligate one to keep ones mouth shut until that President is out of office. As well, many of the excerpts I have seen talk about policy decisions and internal government deliberations regarding issues about a war we are still fighting! For example, surely his comments describing presidential ambivalence about (and hostility towards) Hamid Karzai are not helpful at this stage of post-war negotiations.
Don’t get me wrong. If Robert Gates wants to contribute scholarship towards understanding these two wars, he is uniquely qualified to do so. I don’t begrudge him his effort to write himself into our history either. The timing of the book, however, suggests to me a third motivation – money. The book will sell well now, maybe not so much in 2016. That, I think, is an unworthy reason to write it.
Secondly, well, I’m just not a huge Gates fan. Many pundits say he is the best Secretary of Defense in the post-World War II era. I’m not sure this is much of a compliment. He struck me as another in a line of political appointees convinced he was smarter than anyone on his team. His legacy, I believe, is billions worth of rusting armored convoy vehicles DoD is giving away like lollipops in a doctor’s office, and major conventional weapons system upgrades inadequate for future warfare or cancelled outright.
I know, I know, stop fighting the last war right? His argument (and Rumsfeld’s for that matter) was for more special ops/drones/etc. because we are not going to need all these advanced fighters, ships, and Army Future Combat Systems to fight these insurgency-type conflicts in the future. Because, the argument goes, no more large-scale warfare right? Our economies are so interconnected, we could not possibly be stupid enough to fight another major regional conflict! So said the europeans before World War I.
As we shift our focus to the Pacific, I wonder what he thinks we will fight the Chinese with? Drop an MRAP on them?
What if the last war we are really stuck in, thinking wise, is the one we are in now? If he was wrong about our strategic outlook, the decisions he made as SECDEF will come back to haunt us big time.