Memoirs of A Secretary at War

Book - 2014
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From the former secretary of defense, a strikingly candid, vividly written account of his experience serving Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Before Robert M. Gates received a call from the White House in 2006, he thought he'd left Washington politics behind: after working for six presidents in both the CIA and the National Security Council, he was happy in his role 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. Now, in this unsparing memoir, meticulously fair in its assessments, he takes us behind the scenes of his nearly five years as a secretary at war: the battles with Congress, the two presidents he served, the military itself, and the vast Pentagon bureaucracy; his efforts to help Bush turn the tide in Iraq; his role as a guiding, and often dissenting, voice for Obama; the ardent devotion to and love for American soldiers--his "heroes"--he developed on the job.

In relating his personal journey as secretary, Gates draws us into the innermost sanctums of government and military power during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, illuminating iconic figures, vital negotiations, and critical situations in revealing, intimate detail. Offering unvarnished appraisals of Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Presidents Bush and Obama among other key players, Gates exposes the full spectrum of behind-closed-doors politicking within both the Bush and Obama administrations.

He discusses the great controversies of his tenure--surges in both Iraq and Afghanistan,  how to deal with Iran and Syria, "Don't Ask Don't Tell," Guantánamo Bay, WikiLeaks--as they played out behind the television cameras. He brings to life the Situation Room during the Bin Laden raid. And, searingly, he shows how congressional debate and action or inaction on everything from equipment budgeting to troop withdrawals was often motivated, to his increasing despair and anger, more by party politics and media impact than by members' desires to protect our soldiers and ensure their success.

However embroiled he became in the trials of Washington, Gates makes clear that his heart was always in the most important theater of his tenure as secretary: the front lines. We journey with him to both war zones as he meets with active-duty troops and their commanders, awed by their courage, and also witness him greet coffin after flag-draped coffin returned to U.S. soil, heartbreakingly aware that he signed every deployment order. In frank and poignant vignettes, Gates conveys the human cost of war, and his admiration for those brave enough to undertake it when necessary.
Duty tells a powerful and deeply personal story that allows us an unprecedented look at two administrations and the wars that have defined them.

Publisher: New York :, Alfred A. Knopf,, 2014.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780307959478
Branch Call Number: B GATES
Characteristics: x, 618 pages : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 25 cm
Alternative Title: Memoirs of a Secretary at war


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May 22, 2016

It is the most informing book I have ever read on how things in the US Government actually work. Aside from Nancy Pelosi and Congress as a whole, he has good words (and bad) for everyone - with few axes to grind (though he does point his finger when he thinks appropriate). T
his book makes the evening news alot more understandable - who needs Dickie Roper, when the American Congress is willing to fritter away hundreds of billions of dollars on programs neither the Defense Department nor the top brass want, just to protect jobs back in the home district.

Feb 25, 2015

How Bob Gates ever agreed to leave a secure job at Texas A&M to serve in one of the most thankless jobs in the world, under two diametrically opposed Presidents, is hard to imagine, but he was a man who got the job done despite internecine battles inside the DoD, members of Congress who always wanted pork going their way even if it wasn't in the national interest, and two successive vice-presidents who seemed to have a contrarian viewpoint on just about everything. He did manage to get a lot done, including eliminating nearly three dozen procurement programs, and that is to his credit as well as his sense of duty to every man and woman who wears the uniform.

May 14, 2014

This book proves the adage "too many cooks" or "too many chiefs" All have agendas and it is a wonder that anything gets done for the men and women who are actually putting their lives and well-being on the line. Excellent insight into this department in our government.

Ham625 Mar 20, 2014

A rewarding book by a person chosen by two presidents to serve as his Defense Secretary. There is much to learn from his experiences particularly his "reflections."

Feb 18, 2014

I have some real problems with the " Author Notes " section: Gates wasn't first in the USAF, then recruited by the CIA, he was first at the DoD and CIA, and advised to do a stint as a military officer for career reasons. He appears to be groomed from even before college (at the high school level) for his career, perhaps because his uncle was the Defense Secretary under Eisenhower? He was acting CIA director under Bush #1, and only ACTING as a historic event occurred: several thousand CIA analysts went public castigating Gates' record for " politicizing " (fictionalizing) the intel reports. A relative of Gates related to me that Gates career w/CIA began as a second-story man, or professional burglar, but I've never been able to verify this. (This is the guy who boiled cats during high school, ostensibly for science projects?)

Feb 17, 2014

Well worth reading regardless of where you are on the political spectrum for what it was like to run two wars for two presidents from inside the sausage factory that is Washington DC. Gates details what it takes to get things done through a huge organization with 3 million employees. The book is far more balanced and respectful than the early ‘buzz’, and his last chapter of reflections is valuable on the reasons why DC is less functional than the troops under fire deserve.


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