Robert Gates’ Book and Senior Leadership (Part 1)

By | January 28, 2014

[January 28, 2014] Robert Gates, past U.S. Secretary of Defense for both Presidents Bush and Obama, has written a tell all book that directly and significantly addresses senior leadership, both civilian and military, at its highest levels in Washington D.C.  For that reason and that this blog focuses on the same subject, I will devote a three-part blog conducting an analysis and review. 

Already we can read many book reviews on this book.  What I will do differently is take a different approach – comparing the “ideal” characteristics of senior leaders to the “reality” addressed ere.  In doing so, due to space limitations, I broke this series into parts: U.S. Congress, the Pentagon, and the White House. 

Part 1: U.S. Congress.  Gates generally had good things to say about both U.S. Presidents (with a few exceptions), less so about senior officials in the Pentagon.  But he has very little good to say about Congress, especially as it relates to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He shows considerable contempt and frustration with U.S. domestic politics during war. 

To illustrate, he describes Congress critically as largely dysfunctional and sees “most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities, micro-managerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned, and prone to put self before country.”  Gates condemns Congress also for their general lack of knowledge and their desire to put politics ahead of both the military and the country. 

What Gates is telling us is that Congress lacks the most basic, necessary traits required of senior leadership in a modern era.  In particular he cites a lack of trust and confidence in them, lack of honesty and patience in dealing with the wars, and lack of intelligence to understand basic facts. 

This is, frankly, a withering criticism of Congress.  He is telling us that Congress not only lacks the ability to provide leadership at any level, but are actually a serious impediment by allowing a toxic political environment to continue. 

Some select members of Congress also come under review.  For example, Senator Harry Reid specifically is noted as a contender for worst Congressman – sponsoring in 2008 a resolution to imposed tight timelines for troop withdrawals while the “surge” was having its greatest success.  Reid also stated, “The surge is not accomplishing anything,” a comment that Gates likens to a “saboteur” during wartime. 

In Part 2, I will address the writings of Gates on the Department of Defense.  There are some very interesting, salient criticism about the entrenched bureaucracy, service-specific myopia, and short-sightedness of senior flag officers and civilians.

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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.