There are evangelizers who prefer the company of the heathen and prudes known to spend their nights in strip clubs—presumably to keep a watchful and warning eye on the ways of the wicked.
And then there is Robert Gates in Washington.
The former defense secretary devoted most of his adult life to climbing the structures of power in Washington, D.C. He was deputy CIA director under Ronald Reagan and CIA director under George H.W. Bush. He then served at the Pentagon for 4½ years under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama —holding the job longer than all but four of his predecessors. He was retired with a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Now he wants you to know he was offended, irritated, enraged, scandalized, "too old for this $%*&," and just plain itching to quit nearly every day he spent at the top.
Mr. Gates offers all this in his new memoir "Duty," which hits bookstores Tuesday but already has been widely quoted for the dirt it dishes on the Obama administration.
Among other political titillations: Hillary Clinton's 2007 opposition to the Iraq surge was entirely political, a function of the pressure she was facing from Mr. Obama in the Iowa caucus. The president had no faith in his own Afghanistan strategy even as he sent 30,000 additional troops to the country to execute it. Joe Biden has been "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."
Also, decisions on foreign policy are made with "a total focus on politics." The Obama administration's national security staff was stuffed with arrogant micromanagers who thought they knew better than four-star commanders. "The controlling nature of the Obama White House, and its determination to take credit for every good thing that happened while giving none to the career folks in the trenches who had actually done the work" was offensive to him.
Such are the revelations in this book, at least the witting ones, and they helpfully confirm what people already know about this administration. More interesting, however, are Mr. Gates's unwitting revelations.
Take this vignette from 2010: That January, Mr. Gates called for "a highly restricted meeting of the principals to discuss the possibility of conflict with Iran with little or no advance notice." Nothing happened for a few months, until a story somehow appeared in the New York TimesNYT -2.44% saying nothing was happening. Three days later, the principals met with the president in the Oval Office.
Mr. Gates describes the meeting in detail and then concludes with this nugget:
"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."
This is related without irony on page 393.
But it isn't only the president's sensitivity that angered Mr. Gates. "I was more or less continuously outraged by the parochial self-interest of all but a very few members of Congress," he writes. When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided in 2007 to strike Syria's nuclear reactor and asked Mr. Bush not to disclose the existence of the reactor publicly—a request Mr. Bush honored—"I was furious." When, two years later, Benjamin Netanyahu pressed him to provide Israel with advanced military equipment to counterbalance a $60 billion arms sales to Saudi Arabia he is, again, "furious." On Libya: "I had considered resigning over the Libya issue."
He didn't, of course.
"I did not enjoy being secretary of defense," Mr. Gates writes at one point in the book. Fair enough; he could have retired after serving out the remainder of President Bush's term. He didn't. "People have no idea how much I detest this job," he quotes from an email he wrote in mid-2008, trying to scotch rumors that he would serve under the next administration. Fair enough; he could have turned down Mr. Obama's offer when it was made. He didn't. "If you want me to stay for about a year, I will do so," he told Mr. Obama after the 2008 election. Fair enough; he could have kept the promise to the letter. He didn't; he stayed on for another 29 months.
Those are choices Mr. Gates made for his own reasons. Serving as secretary of defense, after all, isn't really a duty; it's an honor and a privilege.
Honors and privileges, however, do have duties. One is: Don't treat them as a burden. Another is: Don't betray the confidence of those who bestow them on you. A third is: Resignation is honorable, but the tell-all memoir against a president still in office is not. When people wonder why Mr. Obama only seems to listen to Valerie Jarrett and other hacks, maybe it's because at least he can count on their loyalty.
Deep in the book Mr. Gates writes that "A favorite saying of mine is 'Never miss a good chance to shut up.'" His memoir is one big missed chance.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" (http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.com/2017/03/notes-and-references-for-discussion-e.html). Affiliated with Georgetown University (http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/jhb7/) for over ten years, he still shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."