Like just about everybody else in Washington and many across the country, I've been reading the excerpts from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' book "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War."
It presents a significantly more negative picture of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton than Gates' statements in office led anyone to expect.
And it presents an interesting contrast with Gates' previous memoir, "From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War," published in 1996.
To be sure, Gates in "Duty" says many positive things about his most recent former colleagues. He calls Obama's decision to target Osama bin Laden the "most courageous" presidential decision he has seen.
He praises Clinton's judgment, her sense of humor and her penchant for hard work. Though he doesn't make the point explicitly in the excerpt, the secretary of state and secretary of defense weren't constant and mistrustful antagonists.
But he also presents some damning testimony. Listening to Obama soon after he had ordered a surge of troops into Afghanistan, "I thought: The president doesn't trust his commander, can't stand (Hamid) Karzai, doesn't believe in his own strategy and doesn't consider the war to be his. For him, it's all about getting out."
If this is not cynical enough, he is shocked that Clinton and Obama admit that their opposition to the Iraq surge was politically motivated -- in the presence of Gates, who was in the chain of command on the surge and helped make it work.
As for Vice President Joe Biden, Gates writes that he "has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy issue" over four decades. And he expresses even more angry contempt for congressional leaders.
Gates wrote "Duty" after leaving government with no intention or expectation of ever returning. But he wrote "From the Shadows," published in 1996, in similar circumstances.
He had risen quickly from a junior Russia analyst at the CIA to positions at the National Security Council in the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and first Bush administrations. He was nominated to be CIA director in 1986, but withdrew in the face of congressional opposition; he was nominated again for the post and confirmed in 1991.
In "From the Shadows" he does not always fawn on the leaders he served. "No stranger man in American history" is his verdict on Richard Nixon. Ronald Reagan "began to fade a bit beginning in late 1985-early 1986."
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