What Gates' book gets right, wrong about Obama, Biden, Afghanistan

There is a whole lot of fascinating information about to come out in “Duty” the new memoir by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Here are a few issues that are notable.

Gates goes after Vice President Biden on foreign policy. Gates essentially states that Mr. Biden has “gotten wrong” foreign policy issues over the past 40 years.

Perhaps true. But then again, I’m not sure Mr. Gates is the best man to highlight the failings of others in this area.


In the 1980s, during the height of the Cold War, the CIA had thousands of analysts working to evaluate and anticipate the Soviet Union’s strength, weaknesses and most likely actions.

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This was the time of the Reagan defense build-up and confrontation with the Soviets and, along with the confrontation came great intelligence challenges.

Within the ranks of the CIA one analyst said there was “no way the Soviet Union was going to break up in his lifetime or his children's lifetime.”

In 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, soon followed by the entirety of the Warsaw Pact countries and the Soviet Union, Bob Gates was the Director of Intelligence at CIA; this was the same Bob Gates who completely missed the indications the Soviet Union was about to fall; the same Bob Gates, the CIA analyst in question, who had predicted that the Wall would not come down during his lifetime. Yes, that's great prognostication.

Also, Mr. Gates was completely wrong about Afghanistan and support of President Obama’s 2009 “surge” strategy. It has not worked, it will not work and we will see that there has been no permanent or sustainable progress.

Vice President Biden’s preferred strategy of reducing our presence in Afghanistan to rely on counterterrorist strikes from afar would have been far less expensive in blood and treasure, and far more effective.

What Mr. Gates calls “Whac-A-Mole" strategy was the only effective method to bring the war to a conclusion that would result in some level of stability.

Mr. Gates, like most senior DoD leaders does not understand that the Afghan people are not ungoverned, they are self-governed. As we’ve seen in the results of the “surge,” our forces (seen as occupiers) became the target of the Afghan people.

Joe Biden was correct in his strategic assessment.

Mr. Gates does get a few things spot on – he states that career bureaucrats at State Department and DoD rarely ever come up with new ideas – absolutely correct – and adds to the justification for the need of a “deep cutting” of the existing DoD bureaucratic enclave.

He did make some correct assessments in cutting weapon systems and waste -- going about needed cuts in Defense spending.

Also, he correctly recognizes that today’s U.S. foreign policy is overly militarized. He states that “too many ideologues call for U.S. force as the first option rather than a last resort.

On the left, we hear about the "responsibility to protect" civilians to justify military intervention in Libya, Syria, Sudan and elsewhere.

On the right, the failure to strike Syria or Iran is deemed an abdication of U.S. leadership.

And so the rest of the world sees the U.S. as a militaristic country quick to launch planes, cruise missiles and drones deep into sovereign countries or ungoverned spaces.”

He is correct. We need to establish a strategy that clarifies our national interests, identifies current and future threats to those interests and then build an effective budget and force structure.

Sadly, Gates follows the typical pattern of senior leaders holding their tongue (and turning off their personal integrity) while receiving a government paycheck and serving a political leader.

There have been a parade of “leaders” who produce moral character in public long after the time they should have had it.

He states that President Obama’s rhetoric of the 2008 campaign made Obama chose to support the “good war” in Afghanistan over the “bad war” in Iraq.

Why are we only hearing about this now from Mr. Gates?

Shouldn’t he have said something to the American people, whom he served, about the fact that political narrative, not strategic thinking, was driving the president’s national security policy? A policy that has resulted in thousands of deaths of U.S. soldiers and the permanent and severe injury of thousands of others.

Mr. Gates' book will be a bestseller – and he’ll make a great sum of money but at a terrible price.