Saturday, January 11, 2014

Pentagon Situation Normal, not SNAFU

I'm still waiting for my own copy of Bob Gates' memoir, but I want to share two new reactions that I find quite plausible.

In his review of the book in the Financial Times, reporter Edward Luce notes the difference between what journalists see as newsworthy and what a reviewer sees as significant.
As a journalist, I agree with what has been highlighted about this book in the US media. As a reviewer, considering Duty in its entirety, my take­away is somewhat different from the headlines. The most striking aspect is how gently Gates dishes out his criticisms. Of the book’s more than 600 pages, perhaps only 10 would reflect badly on either president that he served as Pentagon chief.
And Rosa Brooks, law professor who worked at the Pentagon under Gates, sees the civil-military clashes depicted in the memoir as troubling but not surprising. She notes that White House staffs are often very controlling, and politicians naturally consider political considerations in any decision.
Ultimately, the gossipy brouhaha over Gates’s memoir risks obscuring two vital issues, one institutional and the other strategic.

The first is the longer-term prospects for a White House and a Pentagon that can work successfully together, given the vast gulf between the enormous national security complex we’ve built up over the last decade—and the inevitable political imperatives of presidential aides of any party. Most of those I spoke to regard tensions between the White House and Pentagon as fundamentally “more systemic and cultural than personality-driven,” as Janine Davidson, a former Air Force officer, puts it. Davidson, who served under Gates as deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans from 2009 to 2012, notes, “Civilian and military leaders simply speak different languages. They mean different things when they talk of military ‘options,’ or ‘winning’ based on their different backgrounds and the very different pressures they feel.”
The second issue obscured by the media furor over Gates memoir is a fundamental debate over the role of the United States in the world, and the role of U.S. military force. This, in the end, is what appears to have motivated the timing and tone of Gates memoir: an urgent conviction that the United States is dangerously over-reliant on force, with a heavily militarized foreign policy increasingly poorly suited to developing creative responses to the complex security challenges the United States now faces.

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