IN HIS RECENT BOOK “DUTY: MEMOIRS OF A
secretary at War,” Robert Gates, former secretary of defense under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, makes pertinent observations on our defense policy.
Oddly enough, Gates’ primary problem is not with our allies or the defense bureaucracy but with our legislators, both House and Senate members.
Gates was constantly belabored with requests on the part of their constituents — not lowly individuals who have one vote, but business owners represented by lobbyists whose primary interest is not American defense but how they can profit from doing business with the Department of Defense.
Gates’ efforts to enhance efficiency and lower costs were hampered by the demands of these legislators, whose power was exercised in committee meetings and budget decisions.
The defense secretary’s problem with political opportunism in Washington was constant.
Given that background, Gates makes a number of interesting observations about the political climate in Washington.
In one instance Gates refers to a conversation between Obama and Hillary Clinton. Gates recalls that “in strongly supporting a surge in Afghanistan, Hillary told the president that her opposition to the surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. She went on the say, ‘The Iraq surge worked.’ The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it way dismaying.”
Gates’ observations on Russia and Vladimir Putin also are intriguing. He felt that Putin’s predecessor as president, Dmitry Medvedev, was realistic about Russia’s internal problems and its relationship with the West, and was more willing to closely align with the West.
Gates’ feelings toward Putin are worth quoting, especially given the recent happenings in Ukraine: “Putin’s lust for power led him to shoulder Medvedev aside and reclaim the presidency. I believe Putin is a man of Russia’s past, haunted by lost Empire, lost glory, and lost power. …As long as he remains in office, I believe Russia’s internal problems will not be addressed. Russia’s neighbors will continue to be subject to bullying from Moscow, and while attentions of threats of the Cold War period will not return, opportunities for Russian cooperation with the United States and Europe will be limited.”
Our country needs more people like Robert Gates serving in government.
But the political stalemate between our major parties prevents many capable people from serving our country. Ambassadorships, as an example, are purchased by major contributors and other positions are filled with political cronies rather than those devoted to serving their country first.
If our politicians would declare a truce, at least on the appointment of civil servants, we would be better able to meet the problems of our country and the world.
The Journal Inquirer of Manchester (Conn.),