From the former secretary of defense, a strikingly candid, vivid account of serving Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When Robert M. Gates received a call from the White House, he thought he'd long left Washington politics behind: After working for six presidents in both the CIA and the National Security Council, he was happily serving as president of Texas A&M University. But when he was asked to help a nation mired in two wars and to aid the troops doing the fighting, he answered what he felt was the call of duty.
©2014 Robert M. Gates (P)2014 Random House Audio
I am an avid eclectic reader.
Robert Gates has a Ph.D. in Russian and Soviet History. He served as the head of the CIA , been a member of the National Security Council under eight different white house administration, was a Air Force officer in the Strategic Air Command. He knew the pentagon better than most Defense Secretaries. “Duty” is a typical of the memoir genre, declaring that this is how the writer saw it, warts and all, including his own. Gates offers a catalogue of various meetings based in part on notes that he and his Aids made at the time and a review of some of the official reports. I thought he did a fairly good job of writing about the positive as well as the negative remarks about different people. The media seems to want to pick out only the negative comments. For example, Gates did make numerous negative remarks about Joe Biden but also said he and Biden were in agreement about the use of the military in Libya and that he likes Biden. Gates had only glowing remarks about Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton. What came across clearly in the book was his fury with having to deal with a dysfunctional congress, his frustrations in dealing with the bureaucracy of the Pentagon, and the feelings of lack of understating of protocol, respect and distrust by white house staff who had never served in the military. Gates writes that Obama was very thoughtful and analytical, wanted to hear all points of view but then made up his own mind. The author also said that he admired Obama for making some very difficult decision as President. He writes about his concern about the welfare of the troops and how he felt his concern was interfering with his ability to do his job. A good deal of the book deals with battles over the budget and his fight with the Pentagon to get rid of programs, equipment that they no longer need only to have the congress reinstate them because the program had direct effect on their State. Over all it is an interesting look into the workings of our government. George Newbern did an excellent job narrating the book.
Absolutely yes. It explains how our government works in a way I have not found elsewhere. It elucidates the interaction of Congress, the Administration and Foreign Governments, especially on military issues. That the book is written now, as opposed to 5 years from now, greatly enhances its value to the public.
The candid narrative from a person who was Secretary of Defense for two administrations Republican and Democratic. I believe Secretary Gates does his best to provide a true representation of the events described in the book. On several occasions he includes issues where he admits that he was wrong.
A sense of the emotional context.
I was very surprised by the high level of influence that foreign governments have on military decisions made by our government.
Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!
In Afghanistan, the fighting season starts in the spring and lasts until the winter snows freezes the land. The Taliban stages firefights, tries to assassinate its enemies, lays Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and sends suicide bombers to crowded marketplaces. US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates' fighting season started on December 18, 2006, with George W. Bush as his Commander-in-Chief, and ended, at Gates' firm insistence, with his long planned retirement from the cabinet of President Barack Obama on July 1, 2011.
Bush 43 (as Gates referred to in his book, to distinguish him from his father, George H.W. Bush, Bush 41) was the 7th president Gates worked for. Bush 43 dragged Gates from his well loved job as president of Texas A&M, convincing Gates his duty to the country he loves was not finished. Gates was there for the wars in Iraq (2003-2011) and Afghanistan (2001-present); the January 12, 2010 Haitian Earthquake relief effort; the July 2010 Pakistan floods; and the Arab Spring, which began December 18, 2010. These events, and so many others that occurred during his tenure were tumultuous and Gates had to carefully balance resources to succeed with demanding missions.
Gates was also fighting other battles, particularly against a Congress that was, and remains, indifferent, muddled and sometimes hostile to military needs. Yes, it's great to fund all of those cargo planes that the Air Force didn't ask for and can't even find a place to put, but what the troops really needed in 2007 was Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs). Gates pushed that through, and they saved countless lives. And how about decent hospitals and care for wounded warriors? Canceling boondoggle projects and investing the money to help them heal should been something Congress leapt at, but Gates had to jump so many hurdles he could have qualified for an Olympic track team.
Gates had a particular dislike for some people he dealt with on a regular basis. I think he would have been grateful if Nancy Pelosi retired and took a vow of silence. He is a firm supporter of Israel, but Benjamin Netanyahu really bugs the hell out of him. George Newbern, the narrator, conveys Gates' unwritten glee when Obama, apparently no fan either, left Netanyahu cooling his heels in the White House while Obama had dinner with his family. Afghan president Hamid Karzai was another issue. Gates didn't particularly like him, but he understood him better than anyone else in either the Bush or Obama administrations.
Although Gates never had a winter break from his wars, he had strong allies, ardent supporters, and dedicated support from military and civilian Department of Defense employees. His relationship with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was remarkable. They did not always agree, but he admired and respected her statesmanship, and she changed his mind from time to time.
Gates gratefully acknowledges the Washington Post for exposing deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital that he fought hard to start to fix. He also mentions many, many people, from enlisted soldiers to heads of state, that made what he did possible. "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War" (2014) was a "Yes, I was in charge, but hundreds of people were key and this is who they are and what they did" book, not an ego trip.
Gates has Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral Degrees in History, and "Memoirs of a Secretary at War" (2014) was written with a historian's eye for complex detail and accuracy. The differences between Bush 43 and Obama as president are stark. Gates got along better with Bush 43, whose previous military service - although limited - made him innately comfortable with the military mindset. Taking an oath to protect and defend your country, knowing that your oath may lead to your death, and then learning how to accomplish that duty in extensive military training fundamentally changes a person, in part, because you learn you must trust your noncommissioned and commissioned officers with your life. Obama is not a veteran, and inherently distrusts senior military officers. Both men are decisive and made decisions Gates didn't always agree with. Obama is analytical and deliberative, where Bush 43 shot from the hip and was too easily influenced by his advisors, including a hawkish Dick Cheney. Obama considers other opinions, but isn't unreasonably swayed by them - which, considering Joe Biden's unique way of seeing the world, is a good thing. Gates opposed Obama's decision to send Navy SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, but applauded both the courageous decision and its results, comparing it to some of the hardest and loneliest decisions made by Abraham Lincoln.
Gates memoir isn't remotely introspective, but it is clear that by the time he was at the end of his service, he was about to lose it. He cared more personally for the troops than perhaps anyone in a similar position since Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. Writing this memoir expressed the frustration and anguish he felt, but couldn't say, as SecDef.
"Memoirs of a Secretary at War" is 600 pages long, and almost overwhelming in scope. Gates writing style, after 40 years in government, is dry. He jumps from topic to topic, but to be fair, Gates was always jumping from crises to crises. The audio narration was good at differentiating the change in topics. This is a book that I wouldn't have had time to read on text for a very long time, and I'm glad it was available on Audible.
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Love to Bungee!!
I seldom read or listen to biographies, but I decided to make an exception when I first heard about Robert Gates' book. Forget what you heard about this being a hatchet job of President Obama. What would the 4th Establishment do if it could not sensationalize a story.
I have always admired Secretary Gates and the balanced reporting in his book only enhanced my opinion of him. His portrayal of the key military, civilian and political actors is first rate and is in line with other sources. His criticism of Congress, in my opinion, does not go far enough, when will the political theatre end?
The Gates book comes at a critical time. His final chapters, in part, criticize the American penchant to use force and consider the consequences later. His warning is timely, considering continuing calls for US involvement in the Syrian civil war and other troubled world areas.
The narration is first rate. My only criticism about the audio version is the short number of breaks. Most segments are over an hour long.
It is a hard book to stop listening to and although it clocks in at over 25 hours, I listened to the complete book in less than a week.
I don't agree with all of Mr. Gates' politics, but I think he is a fine example of what hard-work, personal responsibility and true patriotism looks like. Not flag pins and crazy talk, but calm, diligent problem-solving and putting your country before self-serving theatrics.
He seemed to have good and bad things to say about all the major players, but I did note a regularly reinforced and distinct anti-Biden and pro-Hillary perspective. Perhaps this reflects his true feelings, or perhaps he would like to have a hand in steering the next Democratic primary, I suspect both.
After Rumsfeld we needed a pragmatic realist who could listen to others and truly put country first. I believe we got that with Gates and I for one am grateful.
Definitely worth the listen if for nothing but the dry-humour and inside perspective.
The intimate detail of the shared stories is very enjoyable.
The details and timeline on capturing Osama Bin Laden.
There was many moments when Robert M. Gates discusses interacting with injured troops and how he felt responsible.
I enjoyed the audible book so much that I went out of my way to stand in line to purchase a hard copy at a signing by Robert M. Gates.
Say something about yourself!
Whether you are interested in recent history, war policy, personal memoirs, or exemplary accounts of leadership, Duty fits the bill. It sets the record about some of the toughest policy decisions made in recent history, while telling the personal story of a man who reluctantly took up the call to aid his country in its time of need. His insight into the Bush and Obama administrations inner workings reveals the core decisions of our nation's defense, warts and all.
Any book by Karl Marlantes. Both authors have a simple, honest and reluctant approach to the necessity of war.
What stands out most is Gates humility and lack of political motives through his time in office. Not particularly wanting the position and responsibility of Secretary of Defense, its clear that his motives were noble--in contrast with some of the politicking that occurs around him throughout his story. Gates was brutally and refreshingly honest, but always respectful of both administrations he worked with (Obama and Bush).
He is almost over the top with how much he expresses his love and concern for soldiers, but his feelings were deep and honest. I have seen him speak and was very impressed at the time, and can tell you that he isn't putting on a show when he talks about his care for soldiers, tears welling up in his eyes.
My respect and admiration for this man have only grown by reading his account.
Yep! I said it! At least that’s sort of how I read it. A parallel between a baseball player in the steroid era and the US Secretary of Defense? Let me explain.
Don’t get me wrong, this was an excellent book! From cover to cover, the book had my ear, and will enlighten the reader on what really happens behind closed doors of the White House, Pentagon, and The Central Intelligence Agency. When “Juiced”, written by Jose’ Conseco came out reviewers ripped the content and cried foul on Conseco for telling a tale that certainly couldn’t be true. And he was chastised for spilling the dirt and telling his side of what was going on in the Major Leagues when he was playing. He was cast out as a liar and then…It all seemed to be true!
Not to say that Gates rips into the US Government and tells nasty detailed stories of the Presidents he served under and the cabinets he worked with, but he does state his side of 30+ years serving our Government and I’ve heard and read a few comments and reviews about his views in the book by the media asking “Why would he say such a thing about Hillary Clinton?”, or “Why does he paint Obama or Biden in such a dim light?" The fact of the matter is these people see what you and I don’t and this book does an excellent job in conveying that reality. Do yourself a favor and watch the documentary “The Fog of War” highlighting the service of McCarthy before, during, and following the Cuban Missile crisis, and the Vietnam Conflict. McCarthy was called a war monger and yet, he makes it clear in that film that “You didn’t know what I knew!” I assume the same for “Duty”
Gates gives a clear account of how he came to the office he served and the events that shaped both his legacy and those of Bush and Obama. He dishes on what his opinions of our military leaders and he doesn’t hold back on comments made by other key political figures. He gives his account of what happened and what the media actually reports. And he provides insight into his long, long days serving our military and the decisions, back-lashes, leaks and outcomes of many of the events from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that (may have) been portrayed differently in newsprint.
There was also plenty of pomp and bravado though sincere to a degree. After all, they are his thoughts and his ever-stated commitment to US troops does seem at times to be re-iterated as an agenda rather than genuine. Maybe not. This book is justifiably a topic of discussion at political roundtables and well worth the 25+ hours it will take to listen and confirm.
The Robert Gates memoir is highly candid and thoughtful. It sets forth without sugarcoating the challenges and frustrations facing a thoughtful and highly competent policymaker in the highest levels of US Government. Many of the frustrations he cites are rather alarming if not fully surprising—e.g., irresponsible US politicians focused simply on political favor at home; unrealistic policy goals; bureaucratic inflexibility in the face of clearly urgent priorities at the war front; allies that are allied in name only. It is not surprising that Mr. Gates considered his time as Defense Secretary during both the Iraq and Afghan Wars as anything but a joy. The one exception he cites is the inspiration he received from meeting and visiting with young soldiers, sailors, marines and members of the Air Force throughout his term of office.
I highly recommend the book for a very realistic look at the behind the scenes realities of making policy at the Cabinet level in the US Government and of dealing with allies and adversaries throughout the world on security issues. It is not a pretty picture, but I commend Mr. Gates for writing a “reality check” that we can all profit from reading.
I would and I have - I think Bob did what he thought was best for his country in his service to it. That's why I'd recommend this book. I think he does a good job explaining why his decision making process and displays a realpolitik that's admirable.
I'd have to say it was Bob's thoughts on Putin. Spot on don't you think?
Bob himself at the beginning has a nasally voice that really surprised me
Worth listening to
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