Robert Gates is receiving a lot of attention today for his memoir entitled Duty. I suspect that this will have limited long-term impact, but for now it provides a source for lots of quotes both positive and negative about Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden. We must also take into consideration that the initial report comes from Bob Woodward, who has not been all that reliable in recent years and his selected quotes may or may not be representative of what Gates wrote in the entire memoir. Plus it is not necessarily a bad thing for civilian politicians to show skepticism of military action which might be upsetting to someone with a more military background. Gates is not necessarily correct in his assessment of all matters. For example, Max Fisher writes that Gates was wrong on the most important issue he faced in failing to see the opportunity for peace with the former Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev. Gates certainly got in wrong in arguing that Gorbachev was not a reformer.
While the headline of the story reports negative comments from Gates about Barack Obama’s skepticism and lack of interest continuing the war in Afghanistan, Gates also wrote “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.”It is hardly a surprise that Obama had mixed feelings about that war which he inherited.
Comments that Hillary Clinton opposed the surge on political grounds might be politically harmful, especially if used to support the narrative that Clinton lacks principle and is guided by political expediency (not that considering the views of the public is necessarily a bad thing). On the other hand he also wrote this about Clinton: “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.” I can already see this quote in Clinton campaign ads.
Gates was hardest on Joe Biden, complaining about his “aggressive, suspicious, and sometimes condescending and insulting questioning of our military leaders.” Another account of the book in The New York Times quotes Gates as writing, “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” I think that that with the current anti-war mood of the country, the portrayal of Biden as a major skeptic of the Afghanistan war might wind up doing him far more good than such a broad-based attack.