Thursday, January 16, 2014

Call to Duty

If nothing else, you have to give credit to Robert Gates’ sense of commitment, but I would think even he had to doubt the operations in Afghanistan, especially with NATO involved and competing national interests.  He appears to have been a “true believer” in this mission, giving it his full attention, every waking and it seems even every sleeping moment.

Gates has been making the rounds promoting his new book, Duty, and judging from the excerpts, it is hard to gauge his responses.  According to him, he had a pretty good “poker face,” so it is anyone’s guess what’s going on in his mind as he both defends and criticizes the Obama White House.  He saves his harshest judgment for Joe Biden, who he said has been wrong on every foreign policy decision over the last 40 years.

It seems Gates didn’t like the way Joe and others in the White House administration could bend Barry’s ear.  Gates apparently wanted Obama’s undivided attention, and felt that all this second guessing and hand wringing weakened Obama’s resolve.  Bush may have made some poor decisions, in Gates’ mind, but he never wavered in his commitment, which Gates seems to feel it was all about.

Gates comes across as a resolute military commander, demanding firm discipline and unwavering commitment to a goal.  His famous “surges” were all about getting the upper hand in Iraq and Afghanistan after wavering commanders had allowed both missions to have almost completely been undone.  He is scornful of a vacillating Congress undermining efforts and eroding confidence in the missions, and of course didn’t think too much of the press either.  He let’s others question the missions, notably Joe Biden, while he sticks resolutely to the matter at hand.

He praises Obama for making unpopular decisions in Afghanistan that went against the Democratic establishment and the press, but Gates ultimately feels that all the President wanted to do was get out of there.  Barry had enough of the whole thing, and in 2011 was pressing for an earlier withdrawal timetable.  For Gates it was important to keep to the timetable.   Never let your guard down, and certainly don’t let the enemy think it forced you to retreat from previously stated positions.

Of course, there is a lot of truth in this.  Any sign of retreat would have been seen as victory by al Qaeda and the Afghan resistance ostensibly led by One-Eyed Omar, the former Taliban leader of Afghanistan.  You have to maintain signs of strength and unity even if your resolve has weakened. 

This is where Gates shined.  Unlike Rumsfeld and other predecessors, Gates wasn’t about false bravado, but rather exuded a quiet confidence that often silenced critics and earned Obama’s and  Bush’s utmost respect.  Both Presidents hailed him as a great Secretary of Defense, and Gates will probably be remembered as the best war secretary in living memory, having presided over two carefully staged withdrawals without any sense of defeat.  That is a tall order!

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