Thirteen years into a war we are not winning –read Eli Lake’s latest on the return of al Qaeda to Fallujah— comes the searing memoir of the second of four Secretaries of Defense who have been second to the president in the chain of command through the long and continuing struggle with radical Islam.
Duty by Robert Gates has been read in full by only a handful of the tens of thousands who will eventually pour over it, but already two or three judgments it renders won’t ever be forgotten.
He recounts his thoughts during a tense 2011 meeting with Obama and Gen. David H. Petraeus, then in charge of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in the White House Situation Room: “As I sat there I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
From Chris Cillizza’s articles on the book analysis in the the same paper, two takeaways, the first noting that Gates said about Vice President Joe Biden that he has “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
The second Cillizza piece, zeroing on the far more important revelation, relays Gates’ portrait of Hillary Clinton –softened by some kind words along the way:
“Hillary told the president that her opposition to the  surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. . . . The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.”
These are hammer blows, each of them, and there will be more as the general public and not the White House-protecting MSM gain access to the book. Take a look at Bob Woodward’s expanded assessment this morning, which evolves as he find new and even more searing slices at Team Obama:
Gates says his instructions to the Pentagon were: “Don’t give the White House staff and [national security staff] too much information on the military options. They don’t understand it, and ‘experts’ like Samantha Power will decide when we should move militarily.” Power, then on the national security staff and now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been a strong advocate for humanitarian intervention.
Another time, after Donilon and Biden tried to pass orders to Gates, he told the two, “The last time I checked, neither of you are in the chain of command,” and said he expected to get orders directly from Obama.
Woodward’s take given his intense focus on the war for the past dozen years is the one to watch and read right now, and from last night when I first reported on the book and the early reaction to it, Woodward’s keen eye for the key detail is unearthing new nuggets. Watch that space all day.
Like early reports from a remote region hit by a 7.0 trembler, the early assessments of Duty almost certainly fail to capture its full impact. Only after the whole book is available for a few weeks to all interested parties –including the military from its senior ranks to its greenest private to its rolls of retired, wounded and widowed– will the full impact of the important memoir be known.
I hope former Secretary Gates makes himself available for long interviews, and not just with me, but with any serious, prepared host. As I noted at the top, we are losing this war. Gates is the third of the six men –two presidents and four SecDefs– who have been at the very top of the decision-making machine. We have long ago absorbed the lessons of President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, but Robert Gates will offer an entirely new set of insights. People serious about the war, who understand how long it will go on and how America has to change its position and the momentum of the conflict, need candid, searching assessments of what has happened to date. Secretary Gates has indeed done his duty with Duty, and the assessments and interviews that follow will be crucial to gleaning from the book all that it has to offer, if not to this president and White House, then to the next.