Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War

Robert Michael Gates, Author
Robert M. Gates. Knopf, $35 (640p) ISBN 978-0-307-95947-8
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Hardcover - 640 pages - 978-0-7535-5553-8
Hardcover - 640 pages - 978-0-7535-5554-5
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Gates was U.S. secretary of defense from 2006-2011, serving in the cabinets of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama—two presidents who had little else in common. Gates's confirmation was a repudiation of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, and his initial mission was to reverse a looming defeat in Iraq. As Gates, in this richly textured memoir, tells it, the Department of Defense had "alienated just about everyone in town" and the new secretary "had a lot of fences to mend." This involved overcoming resistance to maintaining the military's "nontraditional capabilities" developed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile his efforts on behalf of Gen. David Petraeus and the Iraqi surge only exposed other intractable regional flash points. Gates "did not enjoy being secretary of defense," and his focus shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan, where "the foreign-policy team was splintering"; an agitated Israel; and an ever-difficult Iran. He also faced hot-button domestic issues like Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Gates frequently presents himself as the only adult in the room, but given his accounts of administration "micromanagement and operational meddling," a Congress that "up close... is truly ugly," frequent insider leaks, and a government suffering "paralytic polarization," his call for restoring "civility and mutual respect" is a cry from the heart. (Jan.)
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