Robert Gates’ Book and Senior Leadership (Part 2)

By | January 30, 2014

[January 30, 2014] Part 2: The Pentagon.  In Robert Gates new book, he addresses both the good and the bad (lots of both) of our nation’s senior leadership during his time a Secretary of Defense under Presidents Bush and Obama. 

My goal is to provide this series for readers about every other day.  Part 1 (link here) discussed the U.S. Congress and its lack of many required senior leader traits.  The next part in this series addresses the Department of Defense (DoD) but with a focus on the Pentagon. 

The DoD is a vast bureaucratic organization that dwarfs nearly all other U.S. government organizations in size and resources.  It is clearly the largest, of which the military services make up most of it.  The “Pentagon” is simply a building but more readily is symbolic of the military’s leadership.  This is what Gates focused on in his book. 

Gates spends several chapters on the progress towards the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and sometimes to the lack of progress and shortsightedness of senior military leaders.  He also addresses his frustration with the massive DoD bureaucracy and the stubbornness of senior military leaders.  And, that the relationship between the Pentagon and Congress was terrible and that civilian-military relations inside DoD were just as bad. 

According to Gates, the Pentagon was reluctant to spend resources on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for two reasons.  First, they were still working under the philosophy that you go to war with what you have (ala Rumsfeld) and second because these wars were only counterinsurgencies, not the real wars we should be prepared to fight. 

This meant that Gates had to force on the Army a new vehicle called the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) which has a V-shaped, blast-resistant hull that ultimately saved many lives of troops in the field.  He also had to compel the Air Force to purchase more drones to support the here-and-now Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) effort which they had resisted in lieu of the future war-fighting aircraft.  Furthermore, he pushed to have recovery of wounded personnel reduced from a two-hour to a one-hour standard. 

Gates also goes into some detail about the poor civil-military relations and the danger it represents in a society that subordinates the military to civilian control.  It is true that much of the lack of trust between them originated in the White House in later years, but it was with Congress that made it most difficult.  In particular, the Democratic Party leadership, according to Gates, did not conduct themselves honorably. 

He believes that the military services’ leadership, especially the Army and Air Force, were not up to fighting the current war.  Yet, Gates quietly held those military subordinates accountable.  He fired senior people, including generals like the commander in Afghanistan whom Gates thought was not up to the job.

Not unlike what he had to say about Congress, Gates is clear about the Pentagon’s senior leadership lacking some of the key characteristics of senior leadership. 

In Part 3, I will address the writings of Gates on the White House.  As in parts 1 and 2, there are some interesting criticisms about the bureaucratic and political environments in Washington DC.


Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert Gates

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.