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The Quiet Fury of Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates 341

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the a-bit-blunt dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Activities, technologies, equipment, or other matters regarding the U.S. Department of Defense are a common topic on Slashdot, both as stories and in discussions. Despite that, we seldom see stories regarding the senior leadership of DoD as we do for technologists, the political branches, and lately the NSA. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who served under both Presidents Bush and Obama, has released a rather biting memoir of his tenure as the Secretary of Defense. The Wall Street Journal has an excerpt: '... despite everyone being "nice" to me, getting anything consequential done was so damnably difficult — even in the midst of two wars. I did not just have to wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq and against al Qaeda; I also had to battle the bureaucratic inertia of the Pentagon, surmount internal conflicts within both administrations, avoid the partisan abyss in Congress, evade the single-minded parochial self-interest of so many members of Congress and resist the magnetic pull exercised by the White House, especially in the Obama administration, to bring everything under its control and micromanagement. Over time, the broad dysfunction of today's Washington wore me down, especially as I tried to maintain a public posture of nonpartisan calm, reason and conciliation. ... difficulties within the executive branch were nothing compared with the pain of dealing with Congress. ... I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned, and prone to put self (and re-election) before country.' — More at The Washington Post."
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The Quiet Fury of Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

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  • in other words... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zzottt (629458) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:09PM (#45898907) Journal
    Nothing surprising.. basically he is just telling us what we already know about US politics in the modern age.
  • waah waah waah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cellocgw (617879) <cellocgwNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:12PM (#45898945) Journal

    He knew what it was like long before he got that post. What was he expecting, a sudden influx of invisible pink unicorn poop?

  • by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:13PM (#45898953) Homepage Journal

    I have a hard time taking what I've read of the criticism online already seriously. Is it really so damning the Obama didn't consider Afganistan "his war", and "wanted to get out"? Or be "skeptical" of the plans put in place by the military leadership?

    I mean it sounds like what we heard in the 2000s from the bush administration where enough patriotism and "believing in the troops" was what it took to make a war work. Expecting that from the common person is annoying and immature, but expecting it from the president sounds extraordinarily naive.

  • Frustrating... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:14PM (#45898963)
    The most frustrating part of this to me is that people die - both combatants and not - as a consequence of decisions made by these clowns.
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:17PM (#45898991) Journal

    Still, he has a rather unique perspective, having been a senior member of both a Republican and a Democrat administration. I'm pretty keen to see his observations

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:30PM (#45899147)

    >> Is it really so damning the Obama didn't consider Afganistan "his war"

    I think it is, for a different reason. A lot of folks elected Obama to get us out our middle eastern wars as fast as possible. The fact that Obama's been dragging his feet on that front, even starting new wars (e.g., Libya), suggests (reaffirms?) that Obama has been a spineless president, bullied into more military action by his military advisers, Gates included.

  • by EMG at MU (1194965) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:32PM (#45899179)

    I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned, and prone to put self (and re-election) before country.

    He never said any of this publicly while holding his position because he didn't want to lose his job. I feel that most politicians and cabinet appointees feel this way, but they always hold it all in until they leave office and are ready to author their "tell all" memoir. Maybe if someone actually spoke the truth while in office the problems plaguing our government would have a better chance of being addressed.

    Of course since they are all "prone to put self (and re-election) before country" they would never dare to challenge the party line. Robert Gates included.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:42PM (#45899301)

    People elected Obama to get us out of the wars, but it was clear from his campaign statements in 2007 that he would pull out from Iraq and escalate in Afghanistan. Remember at the time Afganiatan was still the "good" war that Nush had abandoned for his Iraq folly. I recall informing my Obama-voting friends of this at the time (with references) but they were too ecstatic about winning to let anything mess up the internal narrative.

  • by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:42PM (#45899311) Homepage Journal

    Well, I can't speak to what people perceived when they voted for Obama in 2008, but I at least recall the content of the McCain Obama debates well enough to remember his general military foreign policy positions at the time:
    A. Increased use of targeted drone warfare(promise too well kept, good god)
    B. Out of Iraq(yeah, sorta)
    C. Refocus Afganistan to be about Al Qaeda(kinda bogus, because "focusing" wars is political BS)

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:48PM (#45899407)

    and how is this different from every other time in this nation's history?

    Technology has made it worse. There is a joke about the GAO doing a study of how the photocopier has affected government efficiency, and after careful analysis, determined that if the photocopier had been around in 1940, we would have lost WW2. Technology has an especially pernicious effect on military bureaucracy. Military officers are given annual "fitness reports" and most are rated as "outstanding" (the highest possible grade). A few "excellent" ratings, or a single "above average" can end an officer's career. This "zero defect" mentality leads to a fear of rocking the boat, or making any big changes, and it gets worse the further up the ranks you go. So the generals and admirals at the top, when confronted by a flood of data, are caught in an "analysis paralysis" and muddle through by defaulting to the easy decision of maintaining the status quo and blocking reform. Technology may improve the weapons, but it makes the bureaucracy worse.

  • This is why... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by erp_consultant (2614861) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:48PM (#45899409)
    we can't get competent people to run for public office in this country. Over the years I have worked many times with local, state and federal government agencies. Almost universally, the experience Gates had has mirrored my own. Incompetent management, grandstanding, petty interdepartmental feuds, smothering regulations and endless meetings. If I could sum up the entire experience in a single word it would be this: frustration. Is it any wonder that we can't get talented people to run for public office? High achievers are used to getting things done. Some of them come to Washington thinking that they can cut through the rubbish that slows everyone else down. Good luck with that. I'm sure that many in the press will paint Gates as some sort of grumpy malcontent. But he's actually doing us a favor.
  • Re:waah waah waah (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anubis IV (1279820) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:52PM (#45899461)

    What was he expecting, a sudden influx of invisible pink unicorn poop?

    Probably not, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a problem or that it's unreasonable of him to point it out.

    This is a guy who managed to get himself appointed as director of the CIA a number of years back, so he's familiar with the culture of Washington and how the political game is played there. He served as the president of a major university (my alma mater, and while I was there, in fact, during which time he was VERY highly regarded by both the students and faculty...I've heard a number of firsthand accounts from other students who had personal interactions with him that were beyond the call of Gates' duty, and some of which would have put a significant drain on him and his time), which means dealing with legislators, boards of regents, and all sorts of other bureaucracy. This is also the guy who was asked to become the first Director of National Intelligence (a.k.a. Intelligence Czar) by Bush, but declined the offer for the position so that he could continue where he was (the position later went to John Negroponte).

    More or less, he knows what politics look like and knows enough to survive them for several decades while still getting the stuff done that needs to be done, and yet, despite that, he thinks that the stuff he's seen in these last two administrations is dysfunctional enough that it's worth calling out specifically. Wouldn't you agree that that's a fair assessment of the current state of American politics? There's a reason that polls indicate over half of Americans are in favor of firing EVERYONE in Congress.

    Kudos to him for calling them out. Shame on you for crapping all over someone who is publicly pointing out the sad state of affairs.

  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:57PM (#45899513) Homepage

    "Duty" offers the familiar criticism of Congress and its culture, describing it as "truly ugly." Gates's cold feelings toward the legislative branch stand in stark contrast to his warmth for the military. He repeatedly describes his affection for the troops, especially those in combat.

    Gee, he hates the career politicians who constrain his freedom to act, and loves the people in his chain of command? I'm stunned. Really. You could knock me over with a sledgehammer.

    Gates's severe criticism is even more surprising -- some might say contradictory -- because toward the end of "Duty," he says of Obama's chief Afghanistan policies, "I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions." ... The sometimes bitter tone ... contrasts sharply with the even-tempered image that he cultivated during his many years of government service ... In "Duty," Gates describes his outwardly calm demeanor as a facade. Underneath, he writes, he was frequently "seething" and "running out of patience on multiple fronts."

    So he's saying highly placed officials are under a lot of pressure, try to do what they believe is right, are often in highly contentious situations, have to suppress their emotional reactions, and on sober reflection ultimately support each other? My goodness, these exciting revelations have me so wound up I may go over to the couch and have a little snooze.

    Pop media trying to turn pedestrian normality into sizzling drama. Yawn.

    You want to do something interesting, Gates? Surprise me. Tell me about your fight against the F-35. Tell me about how hard you fought, the times you really put yourself on the line, to get that boondoggle cut. Oh, you didn't? That's why we're still paying for that stupid porkbarrel piece of shit that you opposed? So you're saying you talk the talk, but didn't walk the walk. You want to get me excited about your dedication to America, show me you took a risk for what you believed in when doing so had no upside for you. Don't just whine about how hard it was because everyone else were jerks; I can get that story from every single person on the planet.

  • by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:57PM (#45899517) Homepage Journal

    I was an Obama voter who understood this. He was always a less-bad center-right choice. He also wasn't behind gay rights at the time, which was wrong.

  • by tomhath (637240) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @01:06PM (#45899641)

    your job is to enforce the President's policies

    How the policy is carried out is not the same as ensuring it's carried out.

    If Obama had said "Withdraw from Iraq/Afghanistan now" Gates would have done that or resigned. But being told to fight the war, then being second guessed on how to fight the war was the problem.

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @01:12PM (#45899707) Homepage Journal

    By "most Americans", I take it you refer to the dirt poor, who have nothing to pay, and to the filthy rich, who simply do not pay.

    Working stiffs pay 25 to 33%. Note the word "working". People who WANT TO WORK, but can't find anything better than a minimum wage job only pay 15% - like Romney. People who fall into the 35% bracket are no longer "working".

    http://www.bankrate.com/finance/taxes/tax-brackets.aspx [bankrate.com]

    Please don't sing Romney's praises to me, for paying 15% taxes. I pay considerably more than that. Worse, like any other politician, he makes his money at our expense, THEN cheats on those taxes!

  • by The Grim Reefer (1162755) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @01:40PM (#45900057)

    His perspective is not unique, any number of higher-ups have the same view.

    Perhaps, but it's pretty rare for someone that high up to be so forthcoming. In general they try not to burn any bridges. Which does not seem to be the case here.

    Which is clouded by their own myopia and cataracts.

    Barring mental illness, very few people are are able to or are willing to look beyond what they know. And even fewer are by the time they are old enough to get cataracts.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @02:10PM (#45900373) Journal

    One would hope that the point of Gates' recounting of his problems with two Administrations and Congress is to tell the electorate "You elect the President and Congress, and this is how annoying, counterproductive and pig headed all these people are."

  • by Whorhay (1319089) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @02:11PM (#45900389)

    It isn't so much the rating scale that is broken but the ways in which it is used. They same basic system is used for all performance evaluations from the lowliest enlisted folk to the fattest officers. In all cases your performance rating contributes significantly to scores for promotion. What ends up happening is one asshole decides that all his troops, or even just a few are deserving of that top rating, which should represent like 1% or less of the force. Every other supervisor sees this happen exactly once unfairly and decides to give all of their troops top ratings whenever possible in order to not cripple their chances at promotion. Before you know it everyone gets "firewall 5's" as we called them. In fact if you tried to give a troop a rating that was less than 5 you would have to go talk to the commander and explain why you were willing to throw out that persons career. Getting a score lower than a 5 once would give you a handicap versus every other troop when testing for promotion for something like 3 or 4 years. For enlisted this sucks but unless you are close to high year tenure it's not critical. But for Officers once you reach certain thresholds if you miss promotion a few times your career is officially over.

    The solution should be to simply go to a pass fail system. The current system is completely corrupted I've known guys that got rated lower because they "weren't involved enough in the community" while others skated by doing jack shit except licking the commanders asshole getting awards like crazy.

  • by sqrt(2) (786011) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @02:19PM (#45900437) Journal

    No, not really. There isn't a viable left-wing party in the USA. The Democrats are moderately pro-business center-right and the Republicans are extremely anti-regulation, anti-tax, pro-business far right. There's more divergence on a few (mostly irrelevant) social issues, which is why people think there's a bigger difference than there really is.

  • by CreatureComfort (741652) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @02:21PM (#45900455)
    Unfortunately, that opinion is a great part of why things are in the current mess. It presupposes that if you take away the money, then the "extras" will be curtailed and only the core "important" parts will be left. But this blind faith that the cretins and crooks that are currently in charge, will willing give up their cash cows and "do what's right" is so incredibly naive as to be almost unbelievable.

    Blindly "tightening the purse strings" leads to those parts of government that are good and useful to be sacrificed first, while the partisan and corrupt parts better defend themselves and their budgets. So, instead of a progressive nation of healthy, happy, nutritionally fed, employed, well educated citizens in a nation focused on freedom, scientific and technological advancement, we have become the secretive spymasters and bullies of the world, looking for the next war to line the pockets of the oligarchs, while the bigoted, ignorant masses fight from paycheck to paycheck, if they can find a job, until they die from easily preventable disease, if they survive the worst infant mortality rate of any first world nation.

    "Tighten the purse strings" has meant killing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, killing the National Institutes of Health, killing the Center For Disease Control, killing the Food & Drug Administration inspection program, etc. ad nauseam. Meanwhile the secret budgets, the crony protected waste, the bureaucracy, swells and continues unabated.

    Instead of demanding that the money be taken away, we should be demanding that the places where the money is being mis-spent be stopped, or at the very least that the places that lead to a better society are better funded, in the hopes that doing so requires funds to be reallocated from those things which are wasteful. It has been a tremendous coup by the oligarchs to get people to focus on the dollars, not what value are they getting for the dollars. Government of a large advanced nation by its very nature will involve sums of money so large that the average person will be staggered to the point that most wont even comprehend just how big the amount is. This inevitably leads to the uninformed, most radical knee-jerking among the mob to scream at the size of the number, not at any analysis of how it should be spent.
  • by globaljustin (574257) <justinglobal AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @02:42PM (#45900633) Homepage Journal

    Gates is a conservative Republican.

    I found his criticism to be mellodramatic and uneven.

    One time Obama is a 'micromanager' and the next he's 'out of touch'

    What galls me most is that he criticized the Obama admin. for questioning his generals hard and not accepting their pat answers. Like we're supposed to feel bad when a General in charge of a war gets his feelings hurt?

    I *expect* strict oversight of the men making the direct decisions about wars, especially the double-boondoggles of Iraq and Afghanistan that Obama was given.

    In the case of General Petraus, he damn well needed to be questioned, disrespectfully even, because of this whole mess: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petraeus_scandal [wikipedia.org]

    Where was Gates's keen eye there? Did he admit *any* actual mistakes?

  • by ultranova (717540) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @03:33PM (#45901073)

    One time Obama is a 'micromanager' and the next he's 'out of touch'

    Are you implying that these qualities can't exist in the same person at the same time? Because I assure you, they can and often do. Heck, if anything being an idiot and wanting to control everything are the most stereotypical politician traits imaginable.

  • by Alaska Jack (679307) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @04:12PM (#45901437) Journal

    "Blindly "tightening the purse strings" leads to those parts of government that are good and useful to be sacrificed first, while the partisan and corrupt parts better defend themselves and their budgets. So, instead of a progressive nation of healthy, happy, nutritionally fed, employed, well educated citizens in a nation focused on freedom, scientific and technological advancement, we have become the secretive spymasters and bullies of the world, looking for the next war to line the pockets of the oligarchs, while the bigoted, ignorant masses fight from paycheck to paycheck, if they can find a job, until they die from easily preventable disease, if they survive the worst infant mortality rate of any first world nation."

    There's no evidence for this, and a moment's thought will reveal that it flies in the face of common sense and historical evidence. As the federal government has grown, it has steadily expanded its scope far beyond what the framers seem to have intended... and it's consumed more money to do so.

    "The worst infant mortality" part just shows your bias. It's been shown time and time again that this claim is misleading. (In a nutshell, it's because the US counts nearly every pregnancy, even those where the fetus is for various reasons given very little chance of survival. Other countries "write off" these problematic pregnancies and births. This is how Cuba, for example, claims to have a lower IM rate that the US, which is preposterous given the level of care available there.)

    "Instead of demanding that the money be taken away, we should be demanding that the places where the money is being mis-spent be stopped"

    Huh?

    lllll AJ

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