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« on: January 07, 2014, 04:59:03 PM »

Robert Gates, former defense secretary, offers harsh critique of Obama’s leadership in ‘Duty’
By Bob Woodward, Tuesday, January 7, 1:41 PM

In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”

Obama, after months of contentious discussion with Gates and other top advisers, deployed 30,000 more troops in a final push to stabilize Afghanistan before a phased withdrawal beginning in mid-2011. “I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” Gates writes.

As a candidate, Obama had made plain his opposition to the 2003 Iraq invasion while embracing the Afghanistan war as a necessary response to the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, requiring even more military resources to succeed. In Gates’s highly emotional account, Obama remains uncomfortable with the inherited wars and distrustful of the military that is providing him options. Their different worldviews produced a rift that, at least for Gates, became personally wounding and impossible to repair.

It is rare for a former Cabinet member, let alone a defense secretary occupying a central position in the chain of command, to publish such an antagonistic portrait of a sitting president.

Gates’s severe criticism is even more surprising — some might say contradictory — because toward the end of “Duty,” he says of Obama’s chief Afghanistan policies, “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.” That particular view is not a universal one; like much of the debate about the best path to take in Afghanistan, there is disagreement on how well the surge strategy worked, including among military officials.

The sometimes bitter tone in Gates’s 594-page account contrasts sharply with the even-tempered image that he cultivated during his many years of government service, including stints at the CIA and National Security Council. That image endured through his nearly five years in the Pentagon’s top job, beginning in President George W. Bush’s second term and continuing after Obama asked him to remain in the post. In “Duty,” Gates describes his outwardly calm demeanor as a facade. Underneath, he writes, he was frequently “seething” and “running out of patience on multiple fronts.”

The book, published by Knopf, is scheduled for release Jan. 14.

[PHOTOS: A look at Robert Gates’s career in government]

Gates writes about Obama with an ambivalence that he does not resolve, praising him as “a man of personal integrity” even as he faults his leadership. Though the book simmers with disappointment in Obama, it reflects outright contempt for Vice President Joe Biden and many of Obama’s top aides.

Biden is accused of “poisoning the well” against the military leadership. Thomas Donilon, initially Obama’s deputy national security adviser, and then-Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the White House coordinator for the wars, are described as regularly engaged in “aggressive, suspicious, and sometimes condescending and insulting questioning of our military leaders.”

Gates is 70, nearly 20 years older than Obama. He has worked for every president going back to Richard Nixon, with the exception of Bill Clinton. Throughout his government career, he was known for his bipartisan detachment, the consummate team player. “Duty” is likely to provide ammunition for those who believe it is risky for a president to fill such a key Cabinet post with a holdover from the opposition party.

He writes, “I have tried to be fair in describing actions and motivations of others.” He seems well aware that Obama and his aides will not see it that way.

While serving as defense secretary, Gates gave Obama high marks, saying privately in the summer of 2010 that the president is “very thoughtful and analytical, but he is also quite decisive.” He added, “I think we have a similar approach to dealing with national security issues.”

Obama echoed Gates’s comments in a July 10, 2010, interview for my book “Obama’s Wars.” The president said: “Bob Gates has, I think, served me extraordinarily well. And part of the reason is, you know, I’m not sure if he considers this an insult or a compliment, but he and I actually think a lot alike, in broad terms.”

During that interview, Obama said he believed he “had garnered confidence and trust in Gates.” In “Duty,” Gates complains repeatedly that confidence and trust was what he felt was lacking in his dealings with Obama and his team. “Why did I feel I was constantly at war with everybody, as I have detailed in these pages?” he writes. “Why was I so often angry? Why did I so dislike being back in government and in Washington?” 

His answer is that “the broad dysfunction in Washington wore me down, especially as I tried to maintain a public posture of nonpartisan calm, reason and conciliation.”

His lament about Washington was not the only factor contributing to his unhappiness. Gates also writes of the toll taken by the difficulty of overseeing wars against terrorism and insurgencies in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Such wars do not end with a clear surrender; Gates acknowledges having ambiguous feelings about both conflicts. For example, he writes that he does not know what he would have recommended if he had been asked his opinion on Bush’s 2003 decision to invade Iraq.

Three years later, Bush recruited Gates — who had served his father for 15 months as CIA director in the early 1990s — to take on the defense job. The first half of “Duty” covers those final two years in the Bush administration. Gates reveals some disagreements from that period, but none as fundamental or as personal as those he describes with Obama and his aides in the book’s second half.

“All too early in the [Obama] administration,” he writes, “suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials — including the president and vice president — became a big problem for me as I tried to manage the relationship between the commander in chief and his military leaders.”

Gates offers a catalogue of various meetings, based in part on notes that he and his aides made at the time, including an exchange between Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that he calls “remarkable.”

He writes: “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] 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.”

Earlier in the book, he describes Hillary Clinton in the sort of glowing terms that might be used in a political endorsement. “I found her smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world,” he wrote.

[READ: The Fix on what Gates’s memoir could mean for a Clinton campaign]

March 3, 2010

“Duty” reflects the memoir genre, declaring that this is how the writer saw it, warts and all, including his own. That focus tends to give short shrift to the fuller, established record. For example, in recounting the difficult discussions that led to the Afghan surge strategy in 2009, Gates makes no reference to the six-page “terms sheet” that Obama drafted at the end, laying out the rationale for the surge and withdrawal timetable. Obama asked everyone involved to sign on, signaling agreement.

According to the meeting notes of another participant, Gates is quoted as telling Obama, “You sound the bugle . . . Mr. President, and Mike [Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] and I will be the first to charge the hill.”

Gates does not include such a moment in “Duty.” He picks up the story a bit later, after Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the central commander in charge of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, made remarks to the press suggesting he was not comfortable with setting a fixed date to start withdrawal.

At a March 3, 2011, National Security Council meeting, Gates writes, the president opened with a “blast.” Obama criticized the military for “popping off in the press” and said he would push back hard against any delay in beginning the withdrawal.

According to Gates, Obama concluded, “ ‘If I believe I am being gamed . . .’ and left the sentence hanging there with the clear implication the consequences would be dire.”

Gates continues: “I was pretty upset myself. I thought implicitly accusing” Petraeus, and perhaps Mullen and Gates himself, “of gaming him in front of thirty people in the Situation Room was inappropriate, not to mention highly disrespectful of Petraeus. As I sat there, I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghanistan President Hamid] 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.”

[READ: World Views: Gates was wrong ont he most important issue he ever faced]

‘Breaches of faith’

Lack of trust is a major thread in Gates’s account, along with his unsparing criticism of Obama’s aides. At times, the two threads intertwine. For example, after the devastating 2010 Haitian earthquake that had left tens of thousands dead, Gates met with Obama and Donilon, the deputy national security adviser, about disaster relief.

Donilon was “complaining about how long we were taking,” Gates writes. “Then he went too far, questioning in front of the president and a roomful of people whether General [Douglas] Fraser [head of the U.S. Southern Command] was competent to lead this effort. I’ve rarely been angrier in the Oval Office than I was at that moment. . . . My initial instinct was to storm out, telling the president on the way that he didn’t need two secretaries of defense. It took every bit of my self-discipline to stay seated on the sofa.”

Gates confirms a previously reported statement in which he told Obama’s first national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James Jones, that he thought Donilon would be a “disaster” if he succeeded Jones (as Donilon did in late 2010). Gates writes that Obama quizzed him about this characterization; a one-on-one meeting with Donilon followed, and that “cleared the air,” according to Gates.

His second year with Obama proved as tough as the first. “For me, 2010 was a year of continued conflict and a couple of important White House breaches of faith,” he writes.

The first, he says, was Obama’s decision to seek the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays serving in the military. Though Gates says he supported the decision, there had been months and months of debate, with details still to work out. On one day’s notice, Obama informed Gates and Mullen that he would announce his request for a repeal of the law. Obama had “blindsided Admiral Mullen and me,” Gates writes.

Similarly, in a battle over defense spending, “I was extremely angry with President Obama,” Gates writes. “I felt he had breached faith with me . . . on the budget numbers.” As with “don’t ask, don’t tell,” “I felt that agreements with the Obama White House were good for only as long as they were politically convenient.”

Gates acknowledges forthrightly in “Duty” that he did not reveal his dismay. “I never confronted Obama directly over what I (as well as [Hillary] Clinton, [then-CIA Director Leon] Panetta, and others) saw as the president’s determination that the White House tightly control every aspect of national security policy and even operations. His White House was by far the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost.”

It got so bad during internal debates over whether to intervene in Libya in 2011 that Gates says he felt compelled to deliver a “rant” because the White House staff was “talking about military options with the president without Defense being involved.”

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.

Life at the top was no picnic, Gates writes. He did little or no socializing. “Every evening I could not wait to get home, get my office homework out of the way, write condolence letters to the families of the fallen, pour a stiff drink, wolf down a frozen dinner or carry out,” since his wife, Becky, often remained at their home in Washington state.

“I got up at five every morning to run two miles around the Mall in Washington, past the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam memorials, and in front of the Lincoln Memorial. And every morning before dawn, I would ritually look up at that stunning white statue of Lincoln, say good morning, and sadly ask him, How did you do it?”

The memoir’s title comes from a quote, “God help me to do my duty,” that Gates says he kept on his desk. The quote has been attributed to Abraham Lincoln’s war secretary, Edwin Stanton.

At his confirmation hearings to be Bush’s defense secretary in late 2006, Gates told the senators that he had not “come back to Washington to be a bump on a log and not say exactly what I think, and to speak candidly and, frankly, boldly to people at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue about what I believe and what I think needs to be done.”

But Gates says he did not speak his mind when the committee chairman listed the problems he would face as secretary. “I remember sitting at the witness table listening to this litany of woe and thinking, “What the hell am I doing here? I have walked right into the middle of a category-five shitstorm. It was the first of many, many times I would sit at the witness table thinking something very different from what I was saying.”

“Duty” offers the familiar criticism of Congress and its culture, describing it as “truly ugly.” Gates’s cold feelings toward the legislative branch stand in stark contrast to his warmth for the military. He repeatedly describes his affection for the troops, especially those in combat.

Gates wanted to quit at the end of 2010 but agreed to stay at Obama’s urging, finally leaving in mid-2011. He later joined a consulting firm with two of George W. Bush’s closest foreign policy advisers — former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser during Bush’s second term. The firm is called RiceHadleyGates. In October, he became president-elect of the Boy Scouts of America.

Gates writes, “I did not enjoy being secretary of defense,” or as he e-mailed one friend while still serving, “People have no idea how much I detest this job.”

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« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2014, 05:02:03 PM »

Gates Slams Biden in Memoir, Reveals He Nearly Quit
By Zeke J Miller @zekejmillerJan. 07, 2014

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has harsh words for Vice President Joe Biden’s foreign policy judgement in his soon-to-be-released memoir.

According to the New York Times, which obtained an early copy of the memoir, Gates calls Biden “a man of integrity,” but questions his record. “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” Gates writes, according to the Times.

Gates, the only high-level holdover from the Bush administration to the President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, reveals he nearly quit his post in September 2009 while Obama reviewed his Afghanistan strategy. According to the Times, Gates writes he was “deeply uneasy with the Obama White House’s lack of appreciation — from the top down — of the uncertainties and unpredictability of war…I came closer to resigning that day than at any other time in my tenure, though no one knew it.”

Gates was a backer of a substantial troop increase for Afghanistan early in Obama’s first term, while Biden argued for a smaller counter-terrorism mission in the country.

The Washington Post quotes a separate exchange in the book between Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, where they discussed their opposition to the 2007 Iraq surge in the context of politics. “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] 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.”

Gates’ memoir, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” goes on sale next week.

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« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2014, 05:03:05 PM »

Gates: Obama, Hillary Said Opposition to Iraq Surge Was 'Political'
Michael Warren
January 7, 2014 3:37 PM

Robert Gates, the former defense secretary under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, writes in a new memoir that both Obama and Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time, told Gates that their 2007 opposition to the surge of troops in Iraq was based on political considerations. Both Obama and Clinton were sitting senators running for the Democratic nomination during the debate over the surge. Bob Woodward reports:

    Gates offers a catalogue of various meetings, based in part on notes that he and his aides made at the time, including an exchange between Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that he calls “remarkable.”

    He writes: “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] 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.”

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Offline rangerrebew

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« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2014, 05:26:53 PM »
I have to believe the NSA, or Stasi, are listening to everything Gates says and the FBI watching everywhere he goes.  I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a "tragic accident' in the near future. :2gunz:
America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. Abraham Lincoln

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« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2014, 05:41:41 PM »

The Quiet Fury of Robert Gates
Bush and Obama's secretary of defense had to wage war in Iraq, Afghanistan—and today's Washington
Robert M. Gates
Jan. 7, 2014 4:32 p.m. ET

All too often during my 4½ years as secretary of defense, when I found myself sitting yet again at that witness table at yet another congressional hearing, I was tempted to stand up, slam the briefing book shut and quit on the spot. The exit lines were on the tip of my tongue: I may be the secretary of defense, but I am also an American citizen, and there is no son of a bitch in the world who can talk to me like that. I quit. Find somebody else. It was, I am confident, a fantasy widely shared throughout the executive branch.

Much of my frustration came from the exceptional offense I took at the consistently adversarial, even inquisition-like treatment of executive-branch officials by too many members of Congress across the political spectrum—creating a kangaroo-court environment in hearings, especially when television cameras were present. But my frustration also came from the excruciating difficulty of serving as a wartime defense secretary in today's Washington. Throughout my tenure at the Pentagon, under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, I was, in personal terms, treated better by the White House, Congress and the press for longer than almost anyone I could remember in a senior U.S. government job. So why did I feel I was constantly at war with everybody? Why was I so often so angry? Why did I so dislike being back in government and in Washington?

It was because, despite everyone being "nice" to me, getting anything consequential done was so damnably difficult—even in the midst of two wars. I did not just have to wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq and against al Qaeda; I also had to battle the bureaucratic inertia of the Pentagon, surmount internal conflicts within both administrations, avoid the partisan abyss in Congress, evade the single-minded parochial self-interest of so many members of Congress and resist the magnetic pull exercised by the White House, especially in the Obama administration, to bring everything under its control and micromanagement. Over time, the broad dysfunction of today's Washington wore me down, especially as I tried to maintain a public posture of nonpartisan calm, reason and conciliation.

I was brought in to help salvage the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—both going badly when I replaced Donald Rumsfeld in December 2006. When I was sworn in, my goals for both wars were relatively modest, but they seemed nearly unattainable. In Iraq, I hoped we could stabilize the country so that when U.S. forces departed, the war wouldn't be viewed as a strategic defeat for the U.S. or a failure with global consequences; in Afghanistan, I sought an Afghan government and army strong enough to prevent the Taliban from returning to power and al Qaeda from returning to use the country again as a launch pad for terror. Fortunately, I believe my minimalist goals were achieved in Iraq and remain within reach in Afghanistan.

President Bush always detested the notion, but our later challenges in Afghanistan—especially the return of the Taliban in force by the time I reported for duty—were, I believe, significantly compounded by the invasion of Iraq. Resources and senior-level attention were diverted from Afghanistan. U.S. goals in Afghanistan—a properly sized, competent Afghan national army and police, a working democracy with at least a minimally effective and less corrupt central government—were embarrassingly ambitious and historically naive compared with the meager human and financial resources committed to the task, at least before 2009.

For his part, President Obama simply wanted to end the "bad" war in Iraq and limit the U.S. role in the "good" war in Afghanistan. His fundamental problem in Afghanistan was that his political and philosophical preferences for winding down the U.S. role conflicted with his own pro-war public rhetoric (especially during the 2008 campaign), the nearly unanimous recommendations of his senior civilian and military advisers at the Departments of State and Defense, and the realities on the ground.

The continuing fight over Afghanistan strategy in the Obama administration led to a helpful, steady narrowing of our objectives and ambitions. Still, I witnessed a good deal of wishful thinking in the Obama administration about how much improvement we might see with enough dialogue with Pakistan and enough civilian assistance to the Afghan government and people. When real improvements in those areas failed to materialize, too many people—especially in the White House—concluded that the president's entire strategy, including the military component, was a failure and became eager to reverse course.

But if I had learned one useful lesson from Iraq, it was that progress depended on security for much of the population. This was why I could not sign onto Vice President Biden's preferred strategy of reducing our presence in Afghanistan to rely on counterterrorist strikes from afar: "Whac-A-Mole" hits on Taliban leaders weren't a long-term strategy. That is why I continue to believe that the troop increase that Obama boldly approved in late 2009 was the right decision—providing sufficient forces to break the stalemate on the ground, rooting the Taliban out of their strongholds while training a much larger and more capable Afghan army.

It is difficult to imagine two more different men than George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Clearly, I had fewer issues with Bush. Partly that is because I worked for him in the last two years of his presidency, when, with the exception of the Iraq surge, nearly all the big national security decisions had been made. He had made his historical bed and would have to lie in it. I don't recall Bush ever discussing domestic politics—apart from congressional opposition—as a consideration in decisions he made during my time with him (although, in fairness, his sharp-elbowed political gurus were nearly all gone by the time I arrived). By early 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney was the hawkish outlier on the team, with Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and me in broad agreement.

With Obama, however, I joined a new, inexperienced president determined to change course—and equally determined from day one to win re-election. Domestic political considerations would therefore be a factor, though I believe never a decisive one, in virtually every major national security problem we tackled. The White House staff—including Chiefs of Staff Rahm Emanuel and then Bill Daley as well as such core political advisers as Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs —would have a role in national security decision making that I had not previously experienced (but which, I'm sure, had precedents).

I never confronted Obama directly over what I (as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta and others) saw as his determination that the White House tightly control every aspect of national security policy and even operations. His White House was by far the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost.

I had no problem with the White House driving policy; the bureaucracies at the State and Defense Departments rarely come up with big new ideas, so almost any meaningful change must be driven by the president and his National Security Staff (NSS), led during my tenure under Obama by Gen. James Jones, Thomas Donilon and Denis McDonough. But I believe the major reason the protracted, frustrating Afghanistan policy review held in the fall of 2009 created so much ill will was due to the fact it was forced on an otherwise controlling White House by the theater commander's unexpected request for a large escalation of American involvement. Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request surprised the White House (and me) and provoked a debate that the White House didn't want, especially when it became public. I think Obama and his advisers were incensed that the Department of Defense—specifically the uniformed military—had taken control of the policy process from them and threatened to run away with it.

Most of my conflicts with the Obama administration during the first two years weren't over policy initiatives from the White House but rather the NSS's micromanagement and operational meddling, which I routinely resisted. For an NSS staff member to call a four-star combatant commander or field commander would have been unthinkable when I worked at the White House—and probably cause for dismissal. It became routine under Obama. I directed commanders to refer such calls to my office. The controlling nature of the Obama White House, and its determination to take credit for every good thing that happened while giving none to the career folks in the trenches who had actually done the work, offended Secretary Clinton as much as it did me.

Stylistically, Bush and Obama had much more in common than I expected. Both were most comfortable around a coterie of close aides and friends (like most presidents) and largely shunned the Washington social scene. Both, I believe, detested Congress and resented having to deal with it, including members of their own party. They both had the worst of both worlds on the Hill: They were neither particularly liked nor feared. Nor did either work much at establishing close personal relationships with other world leaders. Both presidents, in short, seemed aloof from two constituencies important to their success.

The relationship between senior military leaders and their civilian commander in chief is often tense, and that was certainly my experience under both Bush and Obama. Bush was willing to disagree with his senior military advisers, but he never (to my knowledge) questioned their motives or mistrusted them personally. Obama was respectful of senior officers and always heard them out, but he often disagreed with them and was deeply suspicious of their actions and recommendations. Bush seemed to enjoy the company of the senior military; I think Obama considered time spent with generals and admirals an obligation.

Such difficulties within the executive branch were nothing compared with the pain of dealing with Congress. Congress is best viewed from a distance—the farther the better—because up close, it is truly ugly. I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country.

I was more or less continuously outraged by the parochial self-interest of all but a very few members of Congress. Any defense facility or contract in their district or state, no matter how superfluous or wasteful, was sacrosanct. I was constantly amazed and infuriated at the hypocrisy of those who most stridently attacked the Defense Department as inefficient and wasteful but fought tooth and nail to prevent any reduction in defense activities in their home state or district.

I also bristled at what's become of congressional hearings, where rude, insulting, belittling, bullying and all too often highly personal attacks on witnesses by members of Congress violated nearly every norm of civil behavior. Members postured and acted as judge, jury and executioner. It was as though most members were in a permanent state of outrage or suffered from some sort of mental duress that warranted confinement or at least treatment for anger management.

I continue to worry about the incessant scorched-earth battling between Congress and the president (which I saw under both Bush and Obama) but even more about the weakening of the moderate center in Congress. Today, moderation is equated with lacking principles and compromise with "selling out." Our political system has rarely been so polarized and unable to execute even the basic functions of government.

I found all of this dysfunction particularly troubling because of the enormity of the duties I shouldered. Until becoming secretary of defense, my exposure to war and those who fought it had come from antiseptic offices at the White House and CIA. Serving as secretary of defense made the abstract real, the antiseptic bloody and horrible. I saw up close the cost in lives ruined and lives lost.

Wars are a lot easier to get into than out of. Those who ask about exit strategies or question what will happen if assumptions prove wrong are rarely welcome at the conference table when the fire-breathers are demanding that we strike—as they did when advocating invading Iraq, intervening in Libya and Syria, or bombing Iran's nuclear sites. But in recent decades, presidents confronted with tough problems abroad have too often been too quick to reach for a gun. Our foreign and national security policy has become too militarized, the use of force too easy for presidents.

Today, too many ideologues call for U.S. force as the first option rather than a last resort. On the left, we hear about the "responsibility to protect" civilians to justify military intervention in Libya, Syria, Sudan and elsewhere. On the right, the failure to strike Syria or Iran is deemed an abdication of U.S. leadership. And so the rest of the world sees the U.S. as a militaristic country quick to launch planes, cruise missiles and drones deep into sovereign countries or ungoverned spaces. There are limits to what even the strongest and greatest nation on Earth can do—and not every outrage, act of aggression, oppression or crisis should elicit a U.S. military response.

This is particularly worth remembering as technology changes the face of war. A button is pushed in Nevada, and seconds later a pickup truck explodes in Mosul. A bomb destroys the targeted house on the right and leaves the one on the left intact. For too many people—including defense "experts," members of Congress, executive branch officials and ordinary citizens—war has become a kind of videogame or action movie: bloodless, painless and odorless. But my years at the Pentagon left me even more skeptical of systems analysis, computer models, game theories or doctrines that suggest that war is anything other than tragic, inefficient and uncertain.

The people who understand this best are our men and women in uniform. I will always have a special place in my heart for all who served on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan—most in their 20s, some in their teens. While I was sitting in a hotel restaurant before my confirmation hearings, the mother of two soldiers then in Iraq came up to me and, weeping, said, "For God's sake, bring them back alive." I never forgot that—not for one moment.

On each visit to the war zones, as I would go to joint security stations in Baghdad or forward operating bases and combat outposts in Afghanistan, I knew I wasn't being exposed to the true grim reality of our troops' lives. And I could only contrast their selfless service and sacrifice with so many self-serving elected and nonelected officials back home.

I came to believe that no one who had actually been in combat could walk away without scars, without some measure of post-traumatic stress. And while those I visited in the hospitals put on a brave front, in my mind's eye, I could see them lying awake, alone, in the hours before dawn, confronting their pain, broken dreams and shattered lives. I would wake in the night, think back to a wounded soldier or Marine I had seen at Landstuhl, Bethesda or Walter Reed, and in my imagination, I would put myself in his hospital room, and I would hold him to my chest to comfort him. At home, in the night, I silently wept for him. So when a young soldier in Afghanistan asked me once what kept me awake at night, I answered honestly: He did.

—Dr. Gates was the 22nd secretary of defense. This essay is adapted from his latest book, "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War," to be published next Tuesday by Knopf.

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« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2014, 07:17:17 PM »
Good! It's about time someone told the truth about this POS president!!
“It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.” —Voltaire

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« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2014, 08:19:45 PM »
Good! It's about time someone told the truth about this POS president!!

Recall that Gates had plenty to say to Tom Donilon before he left....(STFU!!)

I've been waiting for someone who knew what was going on to finally come out with a tell all, and I'll be picking this one up as soon as possible....

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