Margaret O'Brien Steinfels January 18, 2014 - 1:08pm
Robert Gates memoir, Duty, has gotten a rough reception in the media. But considering his view of the media, and of Congress, and of Obama staff, that should be no surprise. That's why Tom Rick's opening paragraph in his front-page review at the NYT Books is refreshing with just the right splash of vinegar.
"As I was reading “Duty,” probably one of the best Washington memoirs ever, I kept thinking that Robert M. Gates clearly has no desire to work in the federal government again in his life. That evidently is a fertile frame of mind in which to write a book like this one."
Duty seems to be the story of a dutiful guy who has served, it says, eight administrations and went to the Department of Defense in the nadir of the Iraq war. I am a few chapters in and what I find is instructive so far:
1. Congressmen/women say one thing in private and another in public. They all want to cut military budgets but not in their home districts.
2. Gates says nothing about his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld, but his effort to get the DOD working together suggests that Rumsfeld may have left it an armed camp, especially between civilians and military.
3. Gates is kind to Bush 43, leading me to wonder if he went to DOD as a favor to Bush 41, who wanted to pull his son out of a horrible mess.
4. Hillary Clinton has a sense of humor; good for her after all the ups and downs.
UPDATE 1/19 The most intriguing chapter so far is "Waging War on the Pentagon" (curious that his attacks on the media, Congress, and Obama staff are what has been written about most widely ). His attack on the Department of Defense, military and civilian both, is vigorous and detailed. Here's the topic sentence (p. 116): "The Department of Defense is structured to plan and prepare for war but not to fight one." He goes into great detail on how and where it was not fighting the wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) the U.S. was in (and losing), but preparing for future wars. The chapter should be an eye-opener for both defenders and critics of the wars.
About the Author
Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.