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.
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Clear and evenhanded
Robert Gates served as Secretary of Defense under both the Bush and Obama White House administrations. Gates was the first Secretary of Defense to serve two administrations from different political parties. Gates was also former head of the CIA, President of Texas A&M, and one of the original members of the Iraq study group (2006). It is widely accepted that Gates is respected (and revered) by both Republicans and Democrats. He is not a polarizing political figure or a talking head espousing a political agenda. For these reasons, Duty has immediate credibility and should evoke reader interest.
Duty is not full of details that rehashes major historical/political events of the Obama and Bush administrations (Iraq war, Afghanistan war, bin Laden’s death, the Surge..). Instead, these situations are briefly summarized to allow Gates the opportunity to provide the reader his problem solving process when dealing with these events. Duty is ultimately about how to be an effective manager in the largest and most complex organization in the world. Gates reveals his approach to defining the problem, analyzing a problem, and developing a solution. The reader take away is Gates was an effective listener, implementer, and manager of complex personalities.
Much of the attention Duty has received from critics involves identifying the winners and losers of the Bush/Obama administrations. For example, Joe Biden takes a pretty bad beating in Duty that will adversely impact his chances of winning the Presidency in 2016. However, Gates is very complementary and critical of various generals, presidents, politicians, and White House staff, regardless of political affiliation. Also, critical comments about the decision-making skills of our leaders are rooted in observable facts. I never felt the criticism of any political leaders was the main emphasis or intent of the book. Gates also effectively communicates the sacrifice and dedication exhibited by the US soldiers.
Overall, I would recommend Duty to anyone who keeps current with the world news. At times the book is shocking (the militaries lack of preparation/planning for the Iraqi war) and revealing (the courageous decision-making skills exhibited by Barack Obama).