The Washington Post, looking at Robert Gates’ new book on serving two very different Presidents as a very busy Secretary of Defense:
His anger at Obama, Congress and even some in the Pentagon seems to spring from his belief that they didn’t match his sense of mission in Afghanistan. They didn’t feel the sting of the troops’ deaths with the intensity that he felt.
This is the Post’s Greg Jaffe reading the tea leaves – and not, as far as I know, a direct quote of any kind – but if it is, in fact, an accurate assessment of Gates, it’s pretty interesting to me. I do think you can be passionate about the well-being of American troops while simultaneously feeling somewhat indifferent about the ultimate goals of a seemingly intractable, open-ended Afghanistan mission that began long before your watch. I mean, jeez, if I somehow became President (through some kind of raffle or something, I guess) and was handed Afghanistan, I don’t know what the heck I’d do, but I probably wouldn’t be especially excited about it.
There’s another line, which is an actual quote, apparently – “for him, it’s all about getting out.” I mean, honestly, if you’re the President, and you think the right thing to do is to get out, that’s what you focus on, isn’t it? The fact that, in the long term, getting out of a war/police action/nation building exercise often involves people getting killed, wounded, and traumatized (without the hope of the operation being truly “successful”) is exactly why we shouldn’t be so damn cavalier about getting our men and women involved in this kind of stuff in the first place.
Now, you could make an argument that we’re not doing a good job of getting out while doing as little damage to ourselves as possible. I’m certainly not very good at evaluating that, but it at least seems plausible – did Obama need to send MORE guys if we’re ultimately trying to leave? But at first glance, I don’t think Gates is making that argument. I think he wants Obama to feel that Afghanistan is really worth this, and the President doesn’t, and that bothers him.
Anyways, Gates has always seemed like a thoughtful, interesting guy. This review isn’t super favorable (to the book, not Gates himself), but I think I may check it out anyways.