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September 19, 2021

Recent memoirs: Robert Gates


It is by no means easy to pronounce on a book you have not read, only based on excerpts or reviews, even if they are thoroughly commented by readers. Especially if the respective book is a volume of memoirs written by such an important decision-maker as Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense of the USA between 2006 and the spring of 2011. I remember that, when he left his office in May 2011, he delivered a speech at the European headquarters of NATO that was amply commented by experts. He said that Europeans should not take for granted the alliance of USA with Europe, as he belongs to a nearly extinct generation in America which sees the old continent as a central element of Washington’s security policy, an opinion which is not shared by the young generation. In brief, he called upon Europe to very seriously consider the imperative of “carrying its share of burden” in the trans-Atlantic alliance, else this vital security link would suffer. Subsequent evolutions proved the old American statesman to be right, one of the last representatives of a type of civil servant strongly committed to the public service, a species that is said to be very rare today in the USA. According to a well-known blogger whose opinions can be read on “The American Interest”- this type of official “values patriotism ahead of partisanship in that quaint, old fashioned way, especially in great need and, above all, in war” and belongs to a devoted category of politicians who “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.”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates served as high-ranking dignitary both in the George W. Bush and Obama administrations – a Republican and a Democrat one – and this is why the observation of the aforementioned blogger is significant for the moral and professional profile of this moderate Republican. In fact, Gates’ prodigious career began in the times of Richard Nixon, except for the two Clinton terms of office, and he was in the service of all subsequent presidents, reaching the highest levels in their administrations – head of the CIA and the National Security Council, and between 2006 and 2011 Secretary of Defense. Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.” – this book which now reached the shelves of American bookshops – the reviews and excerpts that appeared and we use being the result of the American procedures of launching such publishing “hits”, which is running shortly before launch, in high-circulation newspapers, in order to bring to incandescence the impatience of readers – is not a first volume of memoirs written by the author. In the ‘90s of last century, he published another book of memoirs (which also contains interesting mentions to the history of Romania in the ‘1980s), so we can say that the present ‘rerun’ does not have a planned political – and polemic – character, as many readers accuse. Worth mentioning, such a review accompanied by excerpts from the book written by Gates appeared on 7 January 2014 in “The Washington Post,” under the signature of Bob Woodward, and gathered more than 5,000 comments so far (Monday, 13 January), while other American newspapers of high-circulation registered similar numbers of comments on the book, such as “The Los Angeles Times”. The accusations brought by many readers refer to the fact that, given his criticism of president Obama and his team of advisors, Gates should have expected the end of the acting presidential mandate before publishing his memoirs. According to excerpts from ‘Duty,’ President Obama, referring to the war in Afghanistan, for instance, Gates wrote that he “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” Or, with the US military forces now preparing to leave Afghanistan by the end of this year, in line with the decided calendar, such a characterisation of their supreme commander might be considered as excessively tough. A reader comments that “Gates has shown his lack of character gratitude by coming out with the book now while Obama is still president. He has lost all credibility in my mind”; while another wonders: “What is so terribly critical about portraying a president who begins to doubt his decision-making, and then initiates a reversal of a decision. /…/ President Obama should never have gotten the US so involved in Afghanistan.”

It is undisputable that the latest memoirs of Robert Gates will have a strong political significance in the USA, in the near or more remote future (some newspapers emphasise the fact that certain things unveiled about the positions expressed by Hillary Clinton in particular discussions can be used during the electoral campaign for the nomination of the presidential candidate in 2016). He describes many episodes that unveil a vice-president (Joe Biden) with much influence on President Obama. The vice-president “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Gates equally is very tough on other high-ranking national security aides at the White House, still in office today. This does not mean that the author has only criticism for the acting administration. Toward the end of his memoirs, R. Gates writes that all the decisions made by Barack Obama as supreme commander were correct – which induces some confusion among readers – and referring to the president’s option to order the raid against Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan he writes that it was “one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed in the White House.” Gates would have preferred a strong bombing, in order to avoid possible American human losses, but this would not have given the certainty that the head of the terrorist network was killed.

The White House already took position regarding the evaluations and memoirs published by Gates. Two days ago, the spokesperson of the White House said that President Obama “disagrees with Secretary Gates’ assessment” of Joe Biden, who “has been one of the leading statesmen of his time, and has helped advance America’s leadership in the world. President Obama relies on his good counsel every day.” The same source, however, voiced the outstanding appreciation of the president for “Bob Gates’ service” as he “welcomes differences of view among his national security team, which broaden his options and enhance our policies.”

The high interest sparked by this book, which already became a matter of controversy, as it is written by the person who headed the Pentagon for a 5-year interval, when the war against terrorism was at its peak (in Afghanistan and Iraq) shows that it is a must read for those interested by the recent global political and military evolutions.


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