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What made the experience of listening to Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War the most enjoyable?
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).
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
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.
29 of 32 people found this review helpful