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Published on: January 8, 2014
Gates Unspun
A Different Kind of Public Servant

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ new memoir provides an inside look at foreign policy in the Bush and Obama eras, but it is far more than a set of partisan talking points.

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  • Pete

    “Gates was able to accept an appointment from President Obama and offer loyal service to him for two reasons. ”

    Maybe there was a third reason, too. Could be Gates was addicted to power and the trappings of the high office he held.

    And you say, “Contempt for Congress, though recently plumbing new depths, has been one of our favored national pastimes for more than two hundred years.”

    Well, the only group held in more contempt by the American public than Congress itself is the bureaucracy, of which Gate is a charter member.

    Look, from Bush to Obama, American foreign policy has been one expensive disaster after another. And to the degree that he held a high position under both presidencies, Gates’ fingerprints are all over the mess.

    • Corlyss

      “Well, the only group held in more contempt by the American public than Congress itself”

      Ah yes, but that’s low hanging fruit. Everyone can be contemptuous of the institution at any point in time – vide Will Rogers. Nothing new. Nothing exceptional about this Congress as opposed to others. The true test of public opinion is how they feel about their own congressman. And cycle after cycle, with rare exceptions reserved for the terminally dumb who self-destruct, they think their guy is jes’ fine, thank you very much. Until we have truly competitive races every cycle, that’s not going to change, period.

      “is the bureaucracy, of which Gate is a charter member.”

      Where’s your evidence to make such an assertion? I know of no polling that isolates how respondents feel about the local, state, or federal bureaucracy. If you have any, please post a link to it/them.

      • David Funk

        Actually, if you put the presidency, the congress, and the main-stream media together, I think that the military out polls them. People in uniform generally don’t like the Pentagon much, but a whole lot more than the rest of the government or the media. Joe on the street may know or care much about the difference between the military and the Pentagon, but sure like them a lot more than the president, congress or the media. (http://www.gallup.com/poll/1597/confidence-institutions.aspx)
        So Gates is a charter member of one of the few bureaucracies that americans like. And Dear Leader is polling worse than W.

        • Corlyss

          “I think that the military out polls them.”

          Americans like organizations that can get things done. Most of the time, that’s the US military. Think back to Katrina relief efforts that floundered until US Northern Command was put in charge. Almost immediately there was an impression of order being brought out of chaos, which was largely true. The effectiveness of the military, in getting things done, was hilited in a thought-provoking piece of speculative writing from the Strategic Studies Institute at the Army War College. In 1992-3 Lt. Col. Dunlap wrote from the standpoint of much later in the 21st Century, explaining the causes of an American military coup in 2012.

          http://strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/parameters/Articles/1992/1992%20dunlap.pdf

  • Anthony

    “…but it’s not the best way to understand what Gates is getting at (Hamitonianism and American Realism).

    Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been a sterling public servant as well as a contributing American. He needs to be thanked for his national efforts and respected for his public decorum. And yes, his country ought not ask for more.

    • crocodilechuck

      Gates is, and has always been, a whore for empire, from his role in ‘Team B’ in the ’70’s up to Defense Secretary under Obama. Melvin Goodman, who knows him well:

      http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/01/09/robert-gates-narcissistic-notions-of-duty/

      Good riddance.

      • Anthony

        You may dislike Secretary Gates personally and the “empire” he represented; nevertheless, he has been a willing and quality U.S. public servant for every administration since Nixon (excluding Bill Clinton). For that as an American, I am appreciative – done with this thread thanks.

        • crocodilechuck
          • Anthony

            Let’s end this. I don’t need convincing and world wide web is definitely not a primary go to source.

          • Corlyss

            Wow! Couldn’t you find someone with better creds than that id*io*t? You need to widen your reading list.

          • crocodilechuck

            Idiot?

            WRM likes him.

          • Corlyss

            So?

      • free_agent

        You write, “a whore for empire”, but of course, that’s what serving “the American interest” *is*.

  • LivingRock

    Well dang, I wish I could read the book a week before its scheduled to be released.

  • Bruce

    Gates published this book before the end of Obama’s term because he realizes the damage this man is causing. The rules of cordiality need to be dropped when a man is ruining the country. I don’t believe Gates is as sanctimonious as WRM does. I believe he likes being in power, although he does a nice job of presenting himself as moderate. He probably is moderate – at a time when we need a spirited defense of liberty. Not moderation.

    • cas47

      He should have published it before the end of his first term It is too late now.

      • Bruce

        He may have felt he could impact Congressional elections.

    • Corlyss

      “He probably is moderate – at a time when we need a spirited defense of liberty. Not moderation.”

      Well, I agree with your comment. However, realistically the SecDef, DoCI, and DoNSA can NOT do more than his principal will permit. Obama was lying thru his teeth when he declared Afpakia to be the “good war” because he didn’t want to look like the usual Democratic pacifist limp-wristed opportunist, which of course he is, was, and always will be. Some have said he should have resigned. A principled stand, to be sure. However, what would that have gotten him? Nothing. The media would have ignored him to death, just like it has McChrystal, like it is trying to do to Benghazi and IRS, etc. What I wish is that Americans had not been so criminally stupid as to elect this id*ii*ot savant in the White House, and doubly stupid as to re-elect him just because he was the first black president. America and Americans are paying a very dear price for the luxury of basking in the warm feelings it gives them. Then it would not have been necessary for Gates to choose between trying to inform the willfully un-informable and high ground.

  • Anthony

    Another look at a different kind of public servant: “I saw most of congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country.” (Robert Gates, excerpt from book via WSJ)

  • cas47

    “that this President sincerely believes that the glorious omelette of his incumbency is well worth the loss of a few miscellaneous eggs. We may be reading a protest against grandiosity and messianism rather than one against hucksterism. The two are often not all that far apart.” Yes this. But don’t sell Obama short. He is both grandiose and messianic, and a huckster.

  • gabrielsyme

    “A person could oppose a winning surge from the “bad party’s President”
    to advance his political career and then turn around and order a losing
    surge to protect his career without crossing a moral Rubicon—if said
    person believed that the value to the nation of installing and keeping
    him in the White House was astronomically high.”

    This assumes a consequentialist moral theory; and when it comes to engaging in war and ordering soldiers soldiers into areas where some will surely die, I think consequentialism cannot be sustained. At some point, one must do what is right, and let the chips fall where they may.

  • free_agent

    You write, “Gates’s dedication to ideals of loyalty, public service, and
    non-partisan pursuit of the national interest speak for themselves, and
    if modern Americans in some ways have moved far from their ancestral
    values”

    In the language of David Hackett Fische, Gates is a patrician. But the patrician sub-culture has always been the smallest strain in American culture. Modern Americans haven’t so much “moved far from their ancestral values” as “few modern Americans have ancestral values that are patrician”.

    • Corlyss

      “But the patrician sub-culture has always been the smallest strain in American culture. ”

      Exactly. 70 years ago, he would have been called a Wise Man, in the words of Evan Thomas who wrote a group biography of some who steered American foreign policy thru the end of WW2 and the beginning of the cold war.

      Until Clinton who appointed only the less incompetent Democrats to major foreign policy jobs, and Obama who appointed ghetto trash and drooling liberals to similar posts (with the exception of H. Clinton, who is principally a Democratic domestic ideologue and was a foreign policy novice, thus making her only less incompetent than what else Obama has picked and has yet to choose from), patricians have always been in charge of US foreign policy at the operational level. That’s the way it should be for the most part. No sane citizen would want the likes of Eric Holder or Jesse Jackson in charge of foreign policy. It’s bad enough to have such spectacles as Susan Rice and Samantha Powers and Jen Psaki on constant display. One wonders how long before Obama runs out of bimbos he can put in sensitive jobs to demonstrate how much contempt he has for the usefulness of the functions for his own personal ends.

      So you comment basically falls into two categories: 1) tell me something I don’t know; and 2) so what?

  • Pete

    Here’s the proper critique of Gates.

    http://www.garynorth.com/public/11977.cfm

  • TommyTwo

    “These people rarely run for public office and often find career politicians distasteful, but they believe, deeply, in public service, and are mostly found in appointive offices in the executive branch.”

    A snarky rephrasing would be: They believe in public service, but not in the public.

    “in a perfect world no President would send troops on a political mission, but politics and war cannot be separated.”

    See Borodino.

  • Corlyss

    Gates is from a generation of older values, who put the nation’s needs ahead of scoring points with a crew as venal, Left-ideological, and myopically political as the cretins who now occupy the highest offices in the land. Since Viet-Nam and the advent of the volunteer army and rampant careerism, that seems to be all that is produced, generation after generation. We’re unlikely to see his kind again until after the Revolution.

  • TalkTalkTalkType

    Regarding American public opinion, as mentioned in the essay, I think that President Roosevelt was a leader who, like Lincoln, understood that politics could not be separated from war. In my experience, it is hard for the policy mandarins to understand the political consigliere, and vice versa. Both are necessary in a democracy. This article illustrates the point http://www.the-american-interest.com/articles/2013/12/19/the-accidental-ambassador/

  • anamax

    > A person could oppose a winning surge from the “bad party’s President” to advance his political career and then turn around and order a losing surge to protect his career without crossing a moral Rubicon—if said person believed that the value to the nation of installing and keeping him in the White House was astronomically high.

    Said person is both a sociopath and wrong.

    The means produce the ends.

    > Gates may have come to feel that this President sincerely believes that the glorious omelette of his incumbency is well worth the loss of a few miscellaneous eggs.

    That misses the point. The problem is that Obama likes to break eggs.

  • free_agent

    I read two reviews of Gates’ book before I read a review that mentioned its *title*, which is “Duty”. Which is sort of odd, because Gates is of the Cavalier culture, and his public service was framed in the concept of duty, which also leads to his poor opinion of both Congress and the current President, who do not base their behavior on that concept. (And it’s clear that WRM is aware of all this, because he uses “duty” in the concluding sentence.)

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