Robert Gates was in the news a lot when his memoir Duty first hit the stores.
Then Hurricane Christie made land and the stunning nature of much of what Gates wrote lost center stage.
I caught up with Gates just yesterday –publishers still haven’t figured out that talk radio sells books and generates buzz at least as easily as all but the biggest television audiences– and the complete transcript of that conversation is here.
The book is full of many more headlines than actually emerged after its publication, because the Manhattan-Beltway media elites apparently put the book down when Bridgegate erupted, or never got past the index read that itself stopped with Biden, Clinton, and Obama.
Some key revelations in the book and from the interview:
*The Chinese in nominal charge of the government of the People’s Republic often did not know what the People’s Liberation Army was doing, and the PLA often acted without the consent of the senior leadership of the government.
*Hillary almost certainly tipped the scales for the president on the original intervention into Libya.
*Gates, a budget hawk and budget cutter, rejects the plan to cut carrier groups, reduce retirement COLAs for active duty career military or recent retirees (“my assumption was that those who were in the service then or had been in the service would be grandfathered,”) or reduce eligibility for TriCare Prime.
*Gates is expansive on Vladimir Putin, and America should listen. “Putin is bad for Russia,” Gate told me. “And I think right now, it’s the Russians that are paying the greatest cost for him being in power.” Gates added that “Putin’s a man of the past. He’s all about lost glory, lost empire, lost power.”
*On Bush, post 9/11: ” Had I been in office at the time, I’m not sure I would have differed with his approach.”
*On Libya, I asked: “Had the Secretary of State not urged intervention, do you think the President would have done it?” The former Secretary of Defense responded: “I think he might well not have. He told me it was an extremely close decision on his part. It was an extremely close call.”
*Gates doubted he would have inserted special forces the night of the attack in Benghazi, but when I asked him why we don’t know what the president and the Secretary of State were doing that night, Gates responded “I just don’t have any idea what the problem is in finding that information out.” He added, with reference to the Oversight Committees of Congress, “if it’s germane to their examination of the circumstances, I would think that they ought to be able to find that out.”
*Gates urged continued military assistance to Egypt. “I believe it’s a mistake to cut off military assistance to the Egyptians at this point, because the future of the Middle East is so uncertain right now.”
*When I asked him about the competence levels on the Middle East of the White House today, Gates responded “Well, I think, you know, you look at Syria and so on, and I think it’s a matter of concern, that’s for sure.”
*When talk turned too Vice President Biden, Gates became expansive, and close to transparent on who he voted for in 2012:
RG: Well, I like Biden. I enjoyed working with him. He’s a stand-up guy. I think he’s a person of integrity. But you know, you just go back, he’d only been a Senator two or three years when he voted against the assistance package to South Vietnam that was a central part of the Ford administration’s effort as we had to leave Vietnam to try and give the South Vietnamese government a shot at survival. So then-Senator Biden voted against that aid package, and it was defeated, so no aid went. He voted against every element of President Reagan’s Defense build-up, and President Reagan’s approach to dealing with the Soviets. He voted against the B-1 bomber, the B-2 bomber, the MX missile, and several other weapon systems, voted against all kinds of missile defense. He voted against the first Gulf War. So I think that there’s an ample record there of somebody who’s just too often, particularly when dealing with our major adversary, the Soviet Union, got it wrong.
HH: Did you vote for him in either election?
RG: Well, I think I’ll keep my votes private.
HH: All right, now I go back to the first question as to why he gets it wrong…
RG: But if you listen closely to the answer I just gave…
Finally, we talked about Iran –Gates doesn’t think Israel will strike Iran within the next six months but thinks trigger sanctions should be passed by the Congress that will kick in if Iran balks at any significant decision point– and about America’s generals, about why he didn’t tell us what he knew before the election, and about Johnny Football and the Cleveland Browns, because after all Gates did lead A&M and some things have to be asked.
Robert Gates has served eight presidents. There’s much and more in the book that needs to be explored. It isn’t in the nature of most of the talking heads on most of the networks to actually read a book, and to do so closely, but if they do so with Duty, they will learn why so much has gone so wrong in the past five years.