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285 of 318 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Review of "Duty" by Robert M. Gates
One paragraph from Gates is worth highlighting to encapsulate the book's overall theme - "I did not enjoy being secretary of defense. As soldiers would put it, I had too many rocks in my rucksack: foreign wars, war with Congress, war with my own department, one crisis after another. Above all, I had to send young men and women in harm's way." That quote frames what I...
Published 8 months ago by Writing Historian

39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative, but ...
Years from now, this will be a valuable book for historians. I found it informative, but it can be a long read. I thought about why, even though it has some interesting facts and anecdotes, it was not the type I would say I can't put down until it's finished. Then, I realized the answer. Having been a former Army officer, it jumped out at me at one point: this reads...
Published 7 months ago by Amazon Customer

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285 of 318 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Review of "Duty" by Robert M. Gates, January 14, 2014
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This review is from: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Hardcover)
One paragraph from Gates is worth highlighting to encapsulate the book's overall theme - "I did not enjoy being secretary of defense. As soldiers would put it, I had too many rocks in my rucksack: foreign wars, war with Congress, war with my own department, one crisis after another. Above all, I had to send young men and women in harm's way." That quote frames what I believe to be the cathartic reasons that Gates wrote this book. I do not believe that he wrote this book for political reasons.

The first two chapters chronicle those events which I feel set the tone for the rest of the memoir, namely, Gates' uncomfortable introduction to Washington politics in the midst of an unpopular conflict, having replaced an unpopular SecDef, as the Democratic Party in both houses flexes its newly gained clout.

A significant portion of the third chapter is devoted to Iraq. It is also where Gates discusses his observations and opinions of prominent members of the Bush cabinet and military services.

Chapter Four - entitled "Waging War on the Pentagon" - focuses on Gates' struggles to overcome the entrenched bureaucracy within the Pentagon.

Gates talks about Syria, Russia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, China, North Korea, NATO, Eastern Europe, Georgia (Former Soviet Republic), and "of all things, piracy" in Chapter Five. The strongest points of this chapter are Gates' insights into his dealings with the Chinese, Russian and Israel leadership, as well as the somewhat symbiotic relationship between Israel and Iran.

Chapter Six - entitled "Good War, Bad War" - examines the shifting operational/strategic perspective as the war in Iraq seemed to be going much better while the conflict that enjoyed strong bipartisanship support, namely Afghanistan, seemed to be getting much worse. Gates' interaction with Vladimir Putin makes for more interesting reading. You will also find the author's perspective on the relief of the CENTCOM commander, Admiral Fallon, which highlights the fact that while administrations like candor from its military leaders, they don't like to read dissenting viewpoints in the national news.

Chapter 7 is a bit like Chapter 3 (but shorter) in that Gates' once again looks inward when chronicling a series of events that both horrified (flying nuclear weapons around the United States and Dover mortuary issues), annoyed (aerial tanker contract and Congressional reactions to several confirmation hearings) and mildly amused him (Condoleezza Rice's reaction to a briefing on Somali pirates). He also presents his side of events leading to the replacement of the Air Force's senior leadership.

In Chapter 8 ("Transition") Gates discusses how he walked a fine line between the incoming or outgoing administrations. He handles transition well, ably assisted by both the incoming and outgoing team, in a manner I can only describe as masterful.

The title of Chapter 9 (New Team, New Agenda, Old Secretary) hinted at the first signs of stress between Gates and the new team in the White House. He has many words of praise for SecState Hilary Clinton, who instantly gains his respect and trust. This chapter also discusses inadequate aeromedevac in Afghanistan, the need to produce an MRAP variant suitable for that theater, more Wounded Warrior and family initiatives, approving the photographing of the arrival of fallen heroes at Dover, FY 2010 budget pains, Repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Iran, problems with USMC parochialism in Afghanistan, and a number of other related topics.

Chapter Ten is where the narrative discloses that relationships are starting to fray. There are also problems between US diplomats and soldiers and the Afghan president. Gates adds considerably to the previous coverage (Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars) through his first-person observations. He also names who he believes to be Woodward's sources within the White House staff in an effort to explain the perspectives found in Woodward's account.

Chapter Eleven (Difficult Friends, Difficult Foes) deals primarily with issues surrounding Iran, Israel, Russia, Vietnam, Bolivia, Pakistan, Korea (North and South), Wikileaks, and China during the 2009 - 2010 timeframe. He also reveals a disquieting session in the White House immediately following the earthquake in Haiti in which mid-level White House staffers question the competence of the SOUTHCOM commanding general because the US military apparently cannot get a tremendous amount of aid to that stricken nation within a reasonable period of time. Ironically, the very scale of US military assistance prompted the French and Brazilians to complain about the United States acting like an occupying power.

Chapter Twelve (Meanwhile, Back in Washington) discusses the disappointments experienced by Gates during this period. He observes that, "After the assurances from the president and Rahm (Emanuel) that they would oppose congressional action before the [Don't Ask, Don't Tell] review was completed, I felt there had been a breach of faith by the White House." Disappointment surfaces again during the FY budget development cycle. The chapter, however, does not concentrate exclusively on these events. Gates also discusses how once again he has to energize the DOD bureaucracy when the services and OSD fail to keep pace with enemy IED developments in Afghanistan.

The first half of Chapter Thirteen (War, War, and Revolution........) seemed, oddly enough, somewhat anti-climactic. It covers the removal of the US Ambassador to Afghanistan - Karl Eikenberry and the relief of General Stanley McChrystal, ISAF commanding general, but in a way that seemed familiar. It was one of the few sections where I did not find myself repeatedly thinking "I didn't know that!" The second half of the chapter, which deals with the revolutions in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, etc. evoked diametrically opposite reactions as I eagerly absorbed a great deal of detailed information about those landmark events. During the discussion prior to our Libyan intervention, you learn that stereotypes are made to be broken as the military chiefs and Gates initially argue against using airpower to assist the Libyan rebels while staffers and advisors with academic or political backgrounds push for the use of military force. Unlike Afghanistan, it does not take long for President Obama to come to a decision.

Chapter Fourteen is where I am going to wind up my chapter summary. It covers the last months of Gates' tenure, focusing on his final trips to Russia (where he had a much better reception than in 2007, although the Russians were concerned about American involvement in aiding the Libyan revolutionaries - which blew back in our faces in Syria where the Russians counseled against our involvement), to China, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The world tour accounts segues into a discussion of military and defense succession covering the changing of the guard within DoD (Panetta replaces Gates), CIA (Petraeus replaces Panetta), ISAF (Allen replaces Petraeus), Afghan ambassador (Crocker replaces Eikenberry) and CJCS (Marty Dempsey replace Mullen). Gates' account of the Bin Laden Raid follows next. After initially coming out against a direct action strike, Gates was persuaded to support the raid. Within an hour after Gates informed Obama of his change of heart, the President approved the operation. The chapter ends with another discussion of bruising budget battles and his final trips to Iraq and Afghanistan.

I found the book fascinating, informative, and plausible. That said, I would plead guilty to allowing my having read Donald Rumsfeld's memoir to influence my five star rating for Gates' much more candid account.
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231 of 266 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Always Fighting for the Troops, January 14, 2014
Robert Gates has a doctorate in Russian and Soviet history and has worked under eight presidents. Gates served for 26 years in in the CIA and NSC, and under Bush I became Director of Central Intelligence. After leaving the CIA he became president of Texas A&M University, leaving there to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. Author Gates then spent four and a half years as Secretary of Defense under both Presidents Bush and Obama. His memoir, 'Duty,' details decision making in both those administrations. While Gates didn't keep a diary himself, he was able to draw upon 40 books of notes by Geoff Morrell, former ABC White House correspondent who was Pentagon press secretary at the time.

What's surprising about Gates' book is that, after a lifetime of keeping personal opinions to himself, he's so candid now. Obama is described as 'the most deliberative president I worked for,' and 'refreshing and reassuring' in his structured approach to decision-making, while Bush II as impossible to dissuade from convictions he held about Iraq. As for Afghanistan vs. Obama, gates contends that while there was no doubt about the president's support for the troops, Obama also suspected he was being 'gamed' by the military into supporting their requests. Thus, Obama was in the position of not trusting General Petraeus - his commander there, disliking Afghanistan's president Karzai, feeling the war wasn't his, and primarily simply wanting to get the U.S. military out of there.

Hillary Clinton, though 'smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded,' disappointed Gates with her admitting her opposition to the 2007 Iraq surge was based on her assessment of domestic politics in her ill-fated run for the presidency. (Gates also notes that Obama did likewise.) Unfortunately, while Gates found Obama's decision-making approach laudable, he also found the president ill-served by some key advisors (eg. V.P. Joe Biden, Samantha Power - a 'humanitarian interventionist' on the national security staff, Tom Donilon - national security advisor, Denis Mcdonough - WH chief of staff, Ben Rhodes - deputy national security adviser).

Neither Bush I nor Obama had good relationships with Congress or worked to establish 'close personal relationships with other world leaders.' More worrisome, to Gates, was the fear that Israel and Saudi Arabia would push Bush I into either direct war with Iran or supporting Israeli 'unilateral' action. (This was after also pointing out that Bush's Afghanistan strategy was 'historically naïve. As for his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld - a man who prided himself on excellent leadership skills, Gates saw 'amazing bungling after the initial military success (in Iraq).'

Gates is more pointed in his criticisms of the $700 billion/year Pentagon - for example, the various services pursuing their own interests, even if this including pursuing technology systems unable to communicate with each other. But Congress, unsurprisingly, gets the worst ink of all - 'broad dysfunction,' 'truly ugly,' '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.'

As for himself and why he retired from the job, Gates cites the emotional toll brought upon himself from visiting the wounded, writing individualized condolence letters, signing orders sending units overseas.' Obama's sudden decision to implement 'don't ask, don't tell,' his inability to trust that the administration would hold to agreements, the sense that 'discussions in the Situation Room allowed no room for discriminating analysis,' a sense that both Biden and Obama were unnecessarily distrustful of the military, and the feeling that others were trying to do his job also grated on the secretary. In fact, he flat out admits he 'did not enjoy being Secretary of Defense.'

Nonetheless, he fought for the troops - buying mine-resistant vehicles over the objections of some generals, forcing the Air Force to scale back plans to buy high-tech fighter jets and boost spending on surveillance drones, and insisting that every wounded soldier would receive treatment w/I an hour of injury - when military doctors said two hours was good enough.

Gates also lobbied for the Iraq surge and helped sustain Republican support for its implementation, as well as McChrystal's request for a similar surge in Afghanistan.

Perhaps most importantly - 'Too many ideologues call for U.S. force as their first option.' Gates is referring to individuals on both sides of the isle. Regardless, then-Ambassador Ryan Crocker (Iraq), per Gates, is proving prescient in predicting a humanitarian disaster on the scale of Rwanda . . . open the way to al Qaeda to return to ungoverned spaces . . . and open the way for Iran' if the U.S. left Iraq. It doesn't look any better in Afghanistan either. It also seems like Robert Gates was involved in a number of wars - with the Obama Administration, Congress, and top military leaders, and always fighting for the troops.
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228 of 266 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Contemporary lessons on politics and war, January 14, 2014
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This book makes a splash in many ways yet it has some flaws. I purchased Kindle and Audible versions for simultaneous reading/listening. Consider this 63-page book for a high-level summary of the chapters: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M Gates -- Summary, Review & Analysis

* Gates shows impatience with domestic politics during war. I could feel the passion.
* Gates evidences personal change through visiting severely wounded troops and learning about the sacrifices of their families.
* Tons of photos, at least in Kindle version.
* Solid narration. George Newbern performed audio version. At opportune times was mystery storyteller, creating tension and suspense.
* The section "Waging War on the Pentagon" marks shift of America's war effort to one of urgency and ruthlessness, and might elevate the book's status in the genre of military history.
* Explains how big federal contracts are navigated and why leadership means fighting the system.
* View of Washington, DC from articulate insider that began federal government career in 1966 and served closely under several administrations.
* Realistic-sounding viewpoints on military interventions and strategy.
* Summarizes lesson of entire book in "On War" section. It's about how wars are deceptively easy to get into; it's a national scolding for being dismissive of history.

* The book starts slowly with speeches and lengthy preambles that resemble the self-licking ice cream cone the author was fighting. After that momentum picks up considerably.
* Timing of the book release might present foreign relation problems for current administration.
* Positioning somewhat as Beltway outsider. A federal office holder since 1986, close to figures that played significant roles in Iran-Contra, held offices in several presidential administrations - an insider, not outsider.
* Like all the other autobiographical books by our war leaders, this book (a) places strong emphasis that the leader didn't want the job but was highly sought after and drafted for the good of the country, and (b) that the leader was on the side of the troops to a greater extent than were our other leaders. These types of books have that in common and I as a reader tend to discount that as puffing.

"Ten soldiers wisely led will beat a hundred without a head." Euripides (480 - 406 BC)

Additional comments and observations:
* Much of the drama in this 640-page book (25 hour and 42 minute audiobook) has to do with the author running interference for the president and at other times for the field commanders, and a large body of players struggling over message alignment and media relations. In my view, this content will be tiresome for most people but certainly not all.
* There is mystery in the book about who ultimately was responsible for certain decisions that proved detrimental to the Iraq War effort. Robert Gates blames certain decisions for the turn in the Iraq War. But he doesn't get precise about who made those decisions - whether it was Bremer, Bush, Rumsfeld or somebody else.
* Gates has an interesting way of criticizing presidents. To cite just two examples: He wrote of President Bush, "Asian leaders, however, had told me they felt neglected by the Bush Administration..." He wrote of President Obama, "...I think Obama considered time spent with generals and admirals an obligation." On balance, Gates seemed to me to be more directly critical of Obama than Bush.
* It's my impression that Gates took on the viewpoints of the military leadership over time and eventually became its chief advocate.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative, but ..., February 2, 2014
Amazon Customer "duluth boy" (Grand Rapids, MI United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Hardcover)
Years from now, this will be a valuable book for historians. I found it informative, but it can be a long read. I thought about why, even though it has some interesting facts and anecdotes, it was not the type I would say I can't put down until it's finished. Then, I realized the answer. Having been a former Army officer, it jumped out at me at one point: this reads much like after action reports I would often have to review. Most compelling histories and biographies/autobiographies maintain a strong story narrative in each chapter. While the book had good chronological breaks, it didn't give a full sense of an underlying theme. Again, it's an interesting read and it will hold your attention if you enjoy material about politics along with the ups and downs of both presidential administrations. I also believe it is fair and balanced as can be for someone who was in his position. In the end, I would be amiss, though, if I didn't say "Thank you, Secretary Gates, for your service. We need more like you."
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111 of 137 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Points to the need for greater governmental transparency and honesty, January 14, 2014
This review is from: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Hardcover)
I wasn’t aware Secretary Gates was publishing memoirs of his time as Secretary of Defense in the Bush and Obama Administrations and was surprised when I received an advance copy for review. It’s not the type of book I would typically read and I’ve been trending away from reading much about the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are a large number of books being published on the topic and as a historian I know these are the first drafts of history that needs some time to settle for perspective and further research to be done. That said Gates’ book is extremely important as he was a key player in both conflicts and provides tremendous insight into the decisions made in both Administrations regarding the conflicts as well as his own thoughts and opinions. Admittedly I didn’t know a great deal about Secretary Gates prior to reading this book. He struck me as a very competent likeable guy who did a workmanlike job of running Defense and overseeing the two conflicts. “Duty” however confused and confounded me as Gates leads us through his tenure at Defense. As someone who’s worked for the CIA and NSC he’s amazingly honest and direct about his thoughts and opinions, likely from years of relaying those same things to various agency heads, Cabinet members, and Presidents. He conveys the sincerity of a public servant who has excelled at what he did and who clearly garnered and earned the respect he had. It’s likewise clear he didn’t relish the idea of returning to government service when President Bush considered him for Director of National Intelligence and again when he was asked to replace Secretary Rumsfeld at Defense. It’s easy to forget the level of conflict and disarray at the end of Rumsfeld’s tenure and Gates conjures it up well here, making it easy to see why he didn’t want the job but grudgingly came to accept why he was needed to clean up the mess. Gates moved quickly to address major problems at Defense and clearly relished the task once he agreed to take it on, doing so with aplomb and a degree of fearlessness. Rather than focusing on the entirety of his service Gates focuses primarily on his tenure as Secretary of Defense with some occasional references to his past service. Gates’ relationship with President Bush and members of his Administration could best be characterized as cordial, businesslike, but a bit distant and detached. Clearly Gates was focused on the task at hand, took his marching orders and carried them out without a large level of interference. It’s easy to forget that Gates came in as Secretary in the last two years of the final Bush years and was largely free of the residue that tainted so many others who had been with Bush since the start. Gates had a clean slate as it were to prosecute the two conflicts and here it’s clear he understood quite clearly what had come before, how it influenced the present, and affected the future.

It’s likewise clear that Gates thought the election of Barack Obama as President meant he would likely be relieved as Secretary, but Obama made it clear early on he wanted to keep Gates as his role was too critical to transition at that point. Gates expresses his conflicting emotions over that as he really did nto want to stay, but understood Obama’s rationale and reasoning, finally electing to remain on. Again, this choice points towards Gates’ selflessness and sense of duty. Early on we see how Gates forges close ties to Hillary Clinton in her role as Secretary of State and with General McChrystal, with Gates and Clinton often discussing notes prior to meetings with President Obama, his Cabinet and staff as well as meeting with her on an ongoing basis. Both wanted to make sure our military and diplomatic policies were in synch and it’s testament to how well that spirit of cooperation worked together. It’s clear from “Duty” that Gates respects Clinton and the job she did, heaping considerable praise on her. Ditto for McChrystal, who Gates elevated to command in Afghanistan early on, a somewhat unusual decision for a wartime commander, but one Gates saw as necessary. Gates delves into his other sometimes controversial decisions regarding the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and his fiscal restraints and conflicts with Congress over military spending and Gates makes it clear he did not like, respect, or care for most Congressmen and Senators, condemning their parochialism, lack of knowledge, and tendency to put politics ahead of the needs of the country and the military. As an inherently non-political person Gates fairly bristles at the politically based decisions made at virtually every level, including those made by Hillary Clinton. What is the big surprise of the book is his withering criticism not just of Congress, but of President Obama and Vice-President Biden, although his criticism for them is not necessarily unwarranted. Gates calls all to task for a variety of shortcomings and clearly was frustrated while serving as Secretary. Undoubtedly the firing of General McChrystal rankled him and frayed their relationship, which was never that strong to begin with. It’s clear that the Obama Administration was alternately not listening to Gates, discounting his opinion, or often ignoring it outright in favor of his closest advisors opinions or caving in to public opinion. Gates’ growing frustration and agitation over what he saw occurring within the Obama Administration is clearly what led to him resigning but for heavens sake, why wasn’t he more vocal about it? Why didn’t he find some way to express that agitation in a public forum? Likewise with his frustration with Congress, he writes of sitting at meetings and hearings where he held his tongue while members berated him, effectively turning the other cheek. Why suffer in silence? I understand he is a dedicated public servant but if you see that things are occurring that aren’t beneficial to the military and the country don’t you have an obligation to speak up?

To be fair Gates’ critiques are largely on the money although at times a bit inflexible or lacking openness to new ideas. His critique on the partition of Iraq was one that stuck out with me: those borders were imposed by the British at the end of World War I and were arbitrary lines in the sand that made no sense, why not revisit the landscape of the Middle East with an eye on reducing conflicts and at least entertaining the idea? Given the unfolding sectarian warfare breaking out in Iraq and elsewhere why not take an alternative route? Likewise the revelation that politicians make decisions based on politics and polling is hardly a newsflash; did he only just recently arrive in DC? If anything Gates’s book and the one by General McChrystal both point to the inherent problems with President Obama’s prosecution of winding down the war in Iraq and the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan; it’s clear that the military establishment do not have tremendous respect for Obama but are willing to be good soldiers and carry out orders. If only more of them would be willing to speak up publicly we could have a public debate over the conduct of these conflicts in a public forum outside of Congress, where we the people could hear the debate and make up our minds based on it. Especially in our post-Wikileaks/Edward Snowden/NSA world where government secrets are being exposed why can’t our government and our officials be more open and honest about what they’re doing? Why must the treat us as though we cannot handle these secrets and have more open and honest public debates about policy? Certainly others will criticize him for speaking up while the war in Afghanistan is still underway and for criticizing a sitting President, but honestly if I’m going to argue for greater openness I cannot hold by antiquated rules of decorum from decades ago. While I applaud Gates for making these revelations there isn’t a whole lot of new information here and what most everyone will pounce on is the catty gossipy parts about Biden and Obama rather than the substance. One revelation was Obama’s uncertainty and tentativeness at times regarding both conflicts and courses of action. I don’t honestly mind a President giving second thoughts or having doubts…had that happened with President Bush (no uncertain man himself) we may never have stumbled into Iraq in the first place. If Gates is hoping to bolster or shore up his reputation he doesn’t do so here. Too often he comes across as bearing a burden yet refusing to speak of the burden or how things can change. All I could think of is the missed opportunities as a result. Sad.
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37 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book, January 15, 2014
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This review is from: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Hardcover)
I highly recommend this book, even though I don't agree with many of Gates thoughts on the use of military force or his characterization of many of the political motivations. The book is his impression of events as they happened, not an attempt at a historic analysis. I read the majority of the book, it was overly long 700 pages with some material that I already knew quite a bit about and skimmed over. I was enormously helped by previous reading "Little America" and "Obama's Wars" which really put a lot of things in context.

Disregard most of what you have read about the book in the press, most of the people talking about the book have not read it. Gates does not at all slam Obama, he is very much in awe of the man, saying he was probably treated much better by Obama than he deserved. He did have some disagreements with Obama and thought he was unfairly treated on some budgetary issues and mistrust of senior military officials. Gates also very much admired Bush but blames him for destroying much of the goodwill for the US after 9/11 when he made his with us or against us statement. Gates was much more involved with Obama on policy issues and their formulation. He worked for Bush at the end of Bush's 8 years when and was with Obama for the formulation of his policies and administration.

Gates admits many mistakes he made, at times you think he has a bit of hubris and then admits his mistakes. He seems like a very good man, but he seems too have too much belief in the effectiveness of military force. Current events and analysis tends to indicate our efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan will be for naught.

His harshest criticism is reserved for Biden, but he also has very good words to say about Biden and defends some of Biden's positions as actually being very close to his, specifically strategy in Afghanistan.

One of the most interesting stories is after a contentious discussion with Obama, the next time he is given a wrapped package, a very expensive bottle of vodka with a not "Sorry I drive you to drink"

Gates has many good things to say about Obama's staff, particularly Rham Emmanuel, who he got along with very well.

Gates is very nice by stating his real heroes are not the flag officers or the politicians but the privates and corporals who he truly admires.

Read the book for yourself, don't go with media comments or the many reviewers here with a political agenda who obviously did not read the book. The book is Gates perception of what happened and Obama, Mullen and others will undoubtedly tell a different story.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly candid, brutally frank, informative memoir, January 17, 2014
This review is from: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Hardcover)
Mr. Gates served as Secretary of Defense for last 2 years of President Bush's term and first 2 years of President Obama's term (end of 2006 until mid-2011). He has written over 800 pages on his experiences of that 4 ½ year service, along with some experiences he has had during his lifetime serving 8 presidents in total. He claims it is unprecedented to be kept on from one administration to another, especially going from Republican to Democrat party (he has usually voted Republican, Eisenhower was his hero).

The book reads like he is talking to you sharing a pot of coffee, six pack or cocktails, very informal and at the same time so intelligent and insightful, probably as only a person could with his experience, lack of ego, and lack of a need to score points or protect his image. Bob Woodward has never written a book as well as this, so interesting, a lot of insider politics, very little minutia, lighter moments along with the extremely painful descriptions of soldier's injuries and their families' personal problems.

If an 800 page book is a bit daunting to read, at least read the last chapter "Reflections", it is a 40 page summary that is the best part of the book (could have been the leading chapter).

He writes that President Bush said that he looked into Russia's Putin's eyes and `saw his soul', Gates says that what he himself saw in Putin's eyes was `a stone cold killer'. He was surprised when Hillary Clinton and Obama both admitted to him that they were against President Bush's `troop surge' in Iraq for purely political reasons. Still, Hillary and he were in agreement on every tough decision; sometimes it was the two of them against most everybody else. He claims that Joe Biden was on the wrong side of almost every important issue (but he likes Joe personally and they agreed on some major issues) and writes as if he suspected that Biden was negatively affecting Obama's decisions.

G. W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, and President Obama come across very well in this book, I have a lot more respect for their honesty and integrity now than ever before (Obamacare is not mentioned). I don't think their enemies have any ammunition against them here, Mr. Gates has made their patriotism very apparent.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Left or right...give me a break!, January 20, 2014
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I've noticed in the reviews that a lot of readers are taking the view of Dr Gates's only on what they believe politically, not giving the book an honest read, or in some cases, not reading the book at all. That's really helpful!!
I'm only a third of the way through the book so far. I've found it very educational and found it to be unbiased politically at this point. I do think that more should have been mentioned regarding the start of the war(s), but understand this is a memoir of Dr Gates.
I do wish that the reviewers would read the book without the political crap to throw in. Please be objective.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And don't forget the humor, January 18, 2014
Charles A. Krohn (Panama City Beach, Florida) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Hardcover)
Great read, rich detail, well presented. Of course it's from Gates' point of view. I found nothing nasty at all, although from various reviews I expected to find blood dripping from every other page. I felt compassion for Secretary Gates when he was served health food for breakfast at the White House, while yearning for eggs and bacon. Unfortunate, but hardly Satanic. Later Gates declares he likes cigars, martinis and red all good American patriots. Yes, he does say that Bush was a little compulsive, Obama a bit too cautious. Yet he worked effectively for both Presidents, telling the truth as he saw it and defending his prerogatives from political poachers unable to stay in their own lane. Lots of details and no fist-fights reported.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good, but ..., January 19, 2014
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This book started a bit slow for me and, at first, it seemed a bit self-serving and I had a hard time generating much empathy for a guy who paid $40 K for lawyers to do his financial statements after talking about coming from a family of modest means. To top it off, had just read Peter Baker’s great book “Days of Fire” about the Bush-Cheney White House. I did not like Robert Gates in the initial pages.

As I continued, I began to realize that it helped to remain aware that this was a memoir and as such that it had to have (try as the author might to avoid it) a certain amount of subjectivity. Accepting this I moved on. The further I read the more I came to a first a somewhat grudging acceptance of how effective a Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was.

The chattering class has picked cherry picked Gates’ disdain for Congress and his frustration with Joe Biden to try to sensationalize the book and to fill thoughtless sound bites. As I worked through the book it seemed patently clear that most of the chattering class had not actually read the book. It is not an easy read and you almost need a background in DOD and NSC structure to follow the book. Still, this is a book very much worth reading.

The strongest part of the book deals with the daily struggles Gates faced to get the Pentagon to do what needed to be done for the troops. I’m not going to recap that but Gates’ efforts to get wounded to medical care in Afghanistan within an hour were amazing. Similarly, he did much to get those who returned with traumatic wounds much better medical care. There is much more he did to help the troops. Another aspect I really liked was Gates’ efforts to visit the troops in remote locations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, perhaps most interesting are the insights Gates provides into the generals and admirals he worked with. Clearly, Adm. Mike Mullen, Gen. Pete Pace and LtGen. John Kelly were among his close friends. Meeting with Marines who were in the same unit as Kelly’s son who was killed in Afghanistan is certainly moving. Although he does not say this explicitly, it is not hard to figure out how disappointed he was in Gen Stan McCrystal. Finally, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to get the notion that Gates probably thought Gen David Petreaus was and is an arrogant self-aggrandizer. Cannot close without noting that I’m a bit ashamed of the Air Force and Gen Buzz Mosely and former Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne. They deserved to be fired and their resignation was overdue.

Another recurring theme that I liked was Gates’ recounting of working with Hillary Clinton. He is a flat out Hillary admirer and found himself ‘almost always in agreement’ with her. He cites Hillary’s personal analysis on corruption in Afghanistan as “the best he had ever seen on this topic.” He singles out Karl Eikenberry as effectively poisoning efforts in Afghanistan and being grossly insubordinate to Hillary who was his boss as Secretary of State. He notes that Hillary called Eikenberry “a huge problem.” That recounting had a definite ring of truth and Eikenberry comes across as an arrogant horse’s patootie. I would not be at all surprised to see Gates endorse Hillary, should she decide to run for President.

Gates is very critical of Congress and, in my opinion, deservedly so. Part of the problem is what Gates notes as “the shift to a three-day workweek – Tuesday through Thursday. Gone are the days when members shared group houses, played poker or golf together, and often ate dinner together …” I’m not going to rehash what Gates has to say about Joe Biden. Prior to reading this, I had pretty much been a Biden fan. I no longer am.

There are some errors and slights in the book. One error is Gates’ blanket statement that no American soldiers were killed in Vietnam while Eisenhower was President. In 1959 Maj. Dale R. Ruis and Master Sgt. Chester M. Ovnand died there. Another has to do with Poland which at one point he criticizes. The Poles contribution, 3000 soldiers sent to Afghanistan and 37 killed should have been noted if he was going to criticize them. I was with my Polish brother, MGen. Leszek Soczewica, when Leszek got a call about two Polish soldiers who had just been killed in Afghanistan. Since Gates says he likes honesty, if I ever met him in person I would tell him “You were not alone in suffering at soldiers’ deaths in Afghanistan, Mr. Secretary. Your book is just a bit too self centered.”
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Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War
Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert Michael Gates (Hardcover - January 14, 2014)
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