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.
Gates also didn’t think Joe Biden was ever right. Via the New York Times:
Mr. Gates calls Mr. Biden "a man of integrity," but questions his judgment. "I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades," Mr. Gates writes.
On “experts” like Samatha Power, again via the Post:
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.
In the excerpt in the Wall Street Journal, Gates addresses the interventionist trend in the foreign policy directly:
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.
While still Defense Secretary in 2011, Gates was already warning the U.S. against finding itself in another land war in Asia.
Gates also wrote in his memoirs that during his 2006 confirmation hearings, he wondered why he had decided to walk into the “category 5 shit storm” that faced him as Defense Secretary, writing that it would be “the first of many, many times I would sit at the witness table thinking something very different from what I was saying.”
Read an excerpt of the book, adapted for the Wall Street Journal, here
I wrote about how interventionism hasn’t worked out well for the U.S. in Iraq and elsewhere recently just yesterday.