He has especially warm praise for George H.W. Bush and his foreign policy team, and notes that Bush had almost a familial relationship with National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft (as George W. Bush would later have with Condoleezza Rice).
He sees Secretary of State James Baker as "a master craftsman of the persuasive and backroom arts at the peak of his powers," but notes that he "demanded more loyalty of the president than he gave in return."
Even more notable than the individual portraits in "From the Shadows" is Gates' argument that there was far more continuity in American foreign policy during the presidencies in which he served than was suggested by partisan rhetoric.
In this view, Nixon's detente with Russia was sealed by Ford's Helsinki Accords, whose human rights provisions were built on by Carter, who began the defense buildup accelerated by Reagan, whose negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev provided the basis for Bush's management of the collapse of the Soviet empire.
Presidents were constantly buffeted from the Right and Left by members of Congress, but, Gates argues, if the process was unpleasant, the results were usually benign.
In the excerpts from "Duty," Gates seems to take a similar view of George W. Bush, a "mature leader" who on the Iraq surge "risked reputation, public esteem, credibility, political ruin and the judgment of history on a single decision he believed was the right thing for the country."
But the excerpts suggest that Gates sees Obama out of line with the continuity he admires in his predecessors.
Clinton and Obama's cynical opposition to the Iraq surge and Obama's half-hearted commitment to his Afghanistan strategy are in jarring contrast with his description in "Shadows" of Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush I.
"For each," he writes, "the country came first," and "each, in his own way, was a modest man." Let's see if in the full text of "Duty" he says the same of Obama.