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on January 14, 2014
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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on November 4, 2017
Very good easy read. I ordered both this book and Leon Panetta's just to compare the thoughts coming from both and Democrat and a Republican. An awakening to hear how difficult it is to run a gigantic organization. You would think the man at the top would be able to get pretty much anything done. Yes there were the political differences between Gates and Obama but that seemed to be the least of the problem. Mostly what you would expect when you have one person dealing with all of the problems of the country and the other just concerned with defense. I came away feeling very good about Gates and how he managed.
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on December 28, 2015
Robert Gates' 2014 memoir covering his four-and-a-half years serving as Secretary of Defense provides a balanced and insightful perspective on the enormous challenges that he faced as a cabinet member under both the Bush and Obama administrations. With a clear and organized voice, Gates shares very personal accounts of dealing with two wars, two presidents, inter-agency squabbles, a highly partisan Congress, and, above all, the military and civilian personnel who served under him during his years at the Pentagon.

The book begins with Gates's interview with Bush "43" in late 2006. Gates describes the strong sense of duty that compelled him to accept the nomination to replace Donald Rumsfeld in the late years of Bush's second term. In great detail, Gates describes the high points and the low points of the ensuring years, as his initial short-term assignment stretched into 4-1/2 years of service.

To me, the book served dual purposes. First, it provides insight into the day-to-day challenges of a senior cabinet member -- one who happens to be running a 3-million-person bureaucracy with a $700 billion annual budget. Second, it reviews the key events of the 2006-2011 period in American foreign policy, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab spring, the successful raid on the Osama bin Laden compound in Pakistan, relationships with Russia and China, and so much more. His perspectives on the behind-the-scenes dialogue and negotiations shed a lot of light on how Bush and Obama approached and responded to the many challenges and quagmires of the early 21st century.

It's tempting to dissect Gates's experience along partisan lines -- which president did a better job of leading the United States, were more in touch with the needs and interests of the American people, had the strongest vision and insight in foreign policy? The author is certainly not shy about sharing his opinions and experiences about those issues. At the same time, he comes across as very honest and balanced in his points of view, heaping ample amounts of praise and criticism on both administrations for which he served.
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on March 1, 2016
Comments on “Duty” by Robert M. Gates
I enjoyed reading Dr. Gates great book: Duty and would recommend it to anyone, especially if thinking of working in Government. It tracks his work as Secretary of Defense under two Presidents. The book reveals a lot of insight into both Presidential operations. The book represents a mass of detailed reporting about the workings of his office and other aspects of government, such as the Congress/members, the Defense department, etc. He had frustrations, which are understandable, and arise from different sources, including the failure to live by promises of various persons and different ideas advanced by people with little concept of the military situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The political views of persons in Congress and the President’s staff often led to difficulties on staging military operations and finding funds to cover these operations.
Dr. Gates comes out of his time as Secretary as loyal to both Presidents, the Nation and very concerned with the brave men and women of the military serving in dangerous situations, which have been directed there by his orders.
Chapter 15, “Reflections”, is a very insightful summary of his book. It is far better than my few comments.
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on August 31, 2015
Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War by Robert M. Gates is not what I expected. It is not the sensationalist tell-all story of a defense secretary battling two opposing presidential administrations. It is a compelling narrative of issues including:

managing the a constant yet changing conflict in the Arab states,

repelling Muammar al-Gaddafi in the Libyan invasion,

keeping tabs on Iran,

convincing an anxious Israel not tp react in a knee-jerk reaction toward its neighbors, particularly Iran and Palestine,

salvaging, and managing the two longest wars–Iraq and Afghanistan

coexisting and where possible, negotiating from a position of strength with Russia, China, Pakistan, and North Korea,

discouraging the acquisition and/or proliferation of nuclear weapons by Iran and and stressing containment of the disasterous effects of such weapons launched North Korea, and

orchestrating the raid and ultimate death of Osama Bin Laden —

all while persuading allies to meaningfully partner with the U.S. to promote political freedom, human rights, government serving people, and a regulated market economy.

All of the above competed with the needs of soldiers, military spouses and families, as well as the wounded. From time to time there were humanitarian endeavors like in Haiti after a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti and the flooding of Pakistan in the summer of 2010.

Add in defense budget reforms and reductions, micromanagement by the White House in Obama administration, pork barrel politics, endless but daunting studies and reports on every conceivable subject, and an entrenched bureaucracy with accompanying turf fighting within the Departments of State and Defense, the White House, the Office of the Vice-President, Congress, and a whole host of other agencies and institutions.

Gates does an admirable job. Duty is candid, authoritative, and informative, packed with information in a readable way. Gates is humble and down-to-earth—his story speaks from the heart. I learned a lot about the issues as well as about various officials. His take on Hillary Clinton gave me food for thought.
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on April 19, 2017
An enlightening look at two rather different administrations. I found Mr. Gates to be fair and honest to the people of both administrations even when making clear his disagreements with their policy. If you are interested in the last years of the Bush and first years of the Obama admins, this book is worth your time. My only complaint is that Gates could sometimes use a stronger editor.
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on January 17, 2016
An interesting insight to two administrations. Unlike some reviewers, I had not issues with the facts of the book except for one opinion. Mr. Gates points out that we predict 100% wrong on the next conflict. One could argue that is good; we took action to prevent those conflicts and it work. It is a given that when I prepare for an attack well, the enemy will not attack there unless they are stupid. The stupid ones will attack, the few there are, and die. So, the smart ones will find another way. The real question is the attacks we suffered: did we see them coming and do nothing because of poor analysis or did we not see them at all.

As to the politics noted the book, the more you learn the leaders (listen less to the hacks) the more respect you have for them. I would still not vote for some of them but it reinforces my belief we live in a merit society. Most of elected and appointment officials noted in the book have good intentions, experience, and reasoning. This is not the Game of Thrones. It is just I disagree with their assumptions and tactics; most of the endstates are the same as I want.
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on August 7, 2014
Gates book shows how difficult it is to run a large bureaucracy, the DOD. He had to deal with senators, congressman and the white house staff. ... many who could not get along with each other. In the end, he was appreciated by presidents from two parties. This is not a tell-all book by a politician. It gives detail insight into how government, presidents and their staff work. Some may suggest that he was too kind to his own legacy, but I see him as an American hero who gave our military great leadership.
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on March 25, 2014
No reader can believe that Gates did not care for our troops. He provided many insights into the inexperienced folks that President Obama put on his team, especially for national security in the White House. Their lack of understanding of our military and its employment was astounding.
Gates' ability to cut through all the red tape to field MRAPs and reduce military casualties from IEDs was noteworthy. On the other hand, his lack of understanding of the need for F-22s in future conflicts was appalling. No American on the ground has had to fear being bombarded by enemy aircraft since the Korean War because we had first established air superiority over the battlefield. That is exactly the mission of the F-22, and no other aircraft in the world can do it better; however, other countries are developing competing aircraft. F-15s have done this for us, but they were first fielded more than 40 years ago, their technology is becoming dated--in an exercise, an F-22 "shot down" a flight of four F-15s and was never seen by the F-15s' radars--and are now being retired because of budget cuts and their age. Some would say that Gates ate the seed corn that was to provide this future capability so that he could satisfy his current defense needs, as opposed to getting additional funding for his current needs.
His explanation of why we did an about face on deploying ABMs in Poland and their radars in the Czech Republic ignores the message such a deployment would have sent to the European countries who had formerly been occupied by the USSR, as well as to the leadership of present-day Russia. (Also, one wonders at the message the cancellation sent to our European allies and Putin.) We are perhaps experiencing those results now in Crimea and the Ukraine. As current Defense budgets are also decimating the Navy, one has to wonder how many frigates with ABM capabilities (to replace the ABMs that would have been deployed in Poland) are now deployed in this area and will be in the future.
Perhaps the largest omission was not addressing President Obama's failure to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqis. Gates merely says that the Bush Administration had negotiated it through 2011. He does not address the fact that it was to have been extended past that date by the next US administration so that we could have left sufficient US forces to help train and develop the Iraqi military forces to preserve the gains that had been made. This failure to extend the SOFA was openly discussed in the US media during the time it was to have occurred, so it was puzzling that he did not address it. We have seen the results of President Obama's failure to extend it: the gains in stabilizing Iraq and defending it from al Qaeda and Iranian influences are disappearing, as the number of civilian deaths from those attacks have increased dramatically. Apparently, this has been caused by President Obama being able to say that he ended our war in Iraq.
Readers cannot doubt Gates' devotion to our troops, his sincerity, nor his belief in serving the interests of our nation. In spite of the shortcomings cited above, it seems apparent that he performed his duty, as he saw it, to the best of his abilities. His background perhaps prepared him better than most to be our Secretary of Defense in such trying times.
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on April 4, 2016
Secretary Gates presents a detailed and thoughtful account of his service under Presidents Bush 43 and Obama. Gives a good close-up view of the day-to-day challenges of his job, including the dynamics of working with the White House, military leaders and foreign heads of state. While politicians often use memoirs either to polish their image or as opportunities to tar their opponents, Gates deserves credit for the candor, objectivity and humanity that shine through. He doesn't hesitate to explain his disagreements with others, especially in Congress and the White House staff, but accords respect where it is due. Those looking for partisan positions will probably be disappointed. His remarks about the damage being done by the dysfunction in Congress, as well as to his insights into the causes, deserve particular attention. If only Members of Congress, and those who return them to office, would take note.
It also bears mentioning that the book is well written and very readable.
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