Sunday, January 12, 2014

Robert M. Gates' 'Duty': a Pre-Review

Like many wonks, I'm eagerly awaiting the January 14th release of Robert M. Gates' upcoming memoir, 'Duty'. Gates was deputy director of the CIA under Reagan and Bush 41, director of the CIA under Bush 41, then Secretary of Defense under Bush 43 and Obama. In between the last two positions, he was president of Texas A&M for just over four years.

Gates' publicity machine is working overtime, dropping snippets that promise insight into those four administrations. Personally, I'm interested in his time at Texas A&M - the revolving door through which politicians/regulators/administrators and academia pass deserves as much attention as the revolving door between the regulators and lobbyists.

After leaving the Obama administration, he accepted - and still holds - the chancellorship of the College of William and Mary.

The memoir, being written by a beltway insider, has also generated pre-release panning by Gates' detractors. A fine example of this is "Robert Gates's Narcissistic 'Duty'" by former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman. Previously, Goodman attributed the CIA's policy of "sexing-up" intelligence reports to Gates. In this latest essay, Goodman describes Gates as a "sycophant in all of his leadership positions" and "[f]or the most part, Gates has been a windsock when it came to policy decisions and typically supported his masters."

It gets worse...
"Regarding Gates’s selection in 2006 to head the Defense Department, I encountered many key Senate staffers who opposed his appointment but believed that it was important to abort the stewardship of Rumsfeld. At that time, I labeled Gates the 'morning after' pill."
We don't need to wait for the memoir for certain insights, though...
"In many ways, the most stunning aspect of Gates’s national security stewardship was his reappointment at the Defense Department by President Barack Obama in 2009. Indeed, the appointment of Hillary Clinton and the reappointment of Bob Gates were rather cynical gestures, naming Clinton to keep the Clinton Foundation (Bill and Hillary) inside the White House tent pissing out instead of outside the tent pissing in. 
"Gates was left in place so that the President could signal to the uniformed military that there would be no significant changes at the Pentagon. Gates's Cold War ideology (which caused him to miss the end of the Cold War) and his politicization of intelligence were completely forgotten."

Will 'Duty' be a rationalization of and apology for his actions and those of his bosses? Perhaps. Will it be a fount of insight? Maybe. Will it be easy to separate the former from the latter? No.

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