Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"seething frustrations and keen observations"

Longtime defense reporter James Kitfield has a revealing and balanced review of Bob Gates' new book in the National Interest. He calls the former defense secretary "a complex man of seething frustrations and keen observations."  I think that helps explain why Gates acted professionally while in office and why his memoir contains valuable lessons now.

Kitfield notes Gates' complaints about White House centralization of policymaking but adds that such behaviors are commonplace, especially in wartime. He cites Gates' dismay over Obama and Clinton comments about political motivations affecting policy views, but also concludes: “Domestic political considerations would therefore be a factor, though I believe never a decisive one, in virtually every major national security problem we tackled.”

Whatever his disappointments over executive branch activities during his tenure, Gates clearly has the lowest regard for the legislative branch -- despite the fact that he maintained among the best relations with Congress of any defense secretary in recent memory.
Gates reserves his most withering criticism for Congress, whose theater of abuse he calls “truly ugly.” His sense of outrage spills off the page in a torrent of disdain. “I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities…micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country,” Gates writes. “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.”
I think it's a tribute to his professionalism  that he succeeded with Congress despite these views.

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