Robert Gates was old and retired. He was brought out of retirement to fix Donald Rumsfeld's overseas warmongering pooch-screws. He did pretty well. Now that he's retired again, will you please get the hell off his lawn?
Gates, who was defense secretary from 2006 to 2011 for presidents Bush and Obama, won near-universal respect for getting things done and keeping his opinions to himself. But his new memoir, "Duty," is a scathing indictment of Obama as a sulking peacenik who couldn't cut and run from Afghanistan fast enough... or it's an offering of praise for a courageous leader who made all the right war moves, depending on which dueling Washington Post writer you listen to:
Gates aims to do more than settle scores in "Duty"; he aims to set himself apart from the Beltway elite, an impressive feat for a guy who joined CIA in 1966 and since then has spent more than two-thirds of his life orbiting DC.
If you go for the big-headline stuff provided by professional "insider" Bob Woodward, Gates succeeds in his endeavor, mostly by calling Obama a cheese-eating surrender monkey and tossing his administration under the bus:
Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama's leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president "doesn't believe in his own strategy, and doesn't consider the war to be his. For him, it's all about getting out."...
Gates, a Republican, writes about Obama with an ambivalence that he does not resolve, praising him as "a man of personal integrity" even as he faults his leadership. Though the book simmers with disappointment in Obama, it reflects outright contempt for Vice President Biden and many of Obama's top aides.
Biden is accused of "poisoning the well" against the military leadership.
On the other hand, Greg Jaffe—the Post's national security reporter—calls Gates "maddeningly self-contradictory in his criticism of Obama," pointing out that the ex-SECDEF called the president's decision to boost troop levels in Afghanistan "courageous and politically unpopular":
"Obama overruled the policy and domestic political concerns of his vice president and virtually all the senior White House staff," Gates writes. Why would the president pursue a politically unpopular strategy that he believed would fail? Gates never attempts to explain the contradiction.
Jaffe adds that Gates ultimately praises POTUS for his Afghanistan moves: "I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions." It also seems disingenuous for Gates to write that he "expected more commitment to the cause and more passion for it" from Obama, when he writes of ennui setting in on his own trips to the warzones in Iraq and Afghanistan: "On each visit I was enveloped by a sense of misery and danger and loss."
So what the hell's going on here? One thing both Post writers agree on is that Gates sounds burned-out, frazzled and frustrated. "Why was I so often angry? Why did I so dislike being back in government and in Washington?" he asks in the book. "[T]he broad dysfunction in Washington wore me down, especially as I tried to maintain a public posture of nonpartisan calm, reason and conciliation."
Or, as Jaffe puts it, Gates "seems to have been driven by a desire to sort through all of the anger, frustration, sadness and guilt that he held inside during his tenure. The book comes off a bit like an extended therapy session."
Good; here's hoping the ol' man gets the help he needs. In office, he always exuded a sense of professional calm to the public. Right now, it sounds as if he sits in dull semi-retirement as a Virginia university chancellor, whiling away the daylight with his eyes glazily fixed on a dog pooping across his Astroturfed concrete backyard, as he dribbles Planters Digestive Health nut mix down the front of his robe and mutters about what an asshole Joe Biden is. If that's what happens to our best wartime leaders, my great uncle Bill would've made one hell of a defense secretary.
[Photo credit: AP]