*Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War*

That is the new Robert M. Gates book, which of course has been widely reviewed.  I was very impressed with this work.  I read it as a meditation on the question of what kinds of martial virtue (or lack thereof) are possible in our contemporary age, updating Herodotus, Thucydides, and Plutarch through the medium of the reigns and rules of the two Bushes, Cheney, Rice, Obama (most of all), Hillary, Biden, and of course Gates himself with a bit of Petraeus tossed in.

Here is one excerpt:

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 [Biden], you be my witness.”  I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters.

And this:

As is usual when the president makes a momentous decision, the White House wanted key cabinet members blanketing the Sunday talk shows…As I was flying back to Washington on March 25, the White House communications gurus proposed I go on all three network shows the next Sunday to defend the president’s decision on Libya.  Exhausted by the trip, I agreed to do two of the three.  then I took a call from Bill Daley, who pushed me hard to do the third show.  I told Daley I’d make him a deal — I would do the third show if he’s agree to get funding for the Libya operation included in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) appropriation (the war supplemental).  I said, “I’ll do Jake Tapper if you’ll do OMB.”  Daley whined, “I thought it would cost me a bottle of vodka.”  I shot back, “Bullshit.  It’s going to cost you $1 billion.”  Daley had the last laugh.  The president and OMB director Jack Lew refused to approve moving the Libya funding into the OCO.  The Defense Department had to eat the entire cost of the Libya operation.

And finally, this:

As I had told President Bush and Condi Rice early in 2007, the challenge of the early twenty-first century is that crises don’t come and go — they seem to come and stay.

The book has come under a good deal of criticism for its revelations about a sitting president and commander-in-chief and for its communication of inside discussions, which presumably at the time were considered to be confidential.  I am not sufficiently informed about the appropriate norms to make a final judgment here, but I can readily imagine that Gates is in this regard quite in the wrong.  Good books are not always based on good behavior.  Furthermore, the overall portrait of Obama is, in my view, quite a favorable one and indeed I would say a profound one (the same cannot be said for Biden or for Congress).


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