Capsule Review

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War

In This Review

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War
Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War
By Robert M. Gates
Knopf, 2014 640 pp. $35.00 Purchase

In this engaging and candid memoir of his time as U.S. secretary of defense in both the Bush and the Obama administrations, Gates offers some trenchant criticisms of the way executive and legislative policymakers have addressed the problems of the last eight years. Gates directs most of his ire at Congress and the Pentagon bureaucracy. In Gates’ view, both institutions failed to respond to the wars of the last decade with sufficient energy and vision. Congress continued to focus on pork-barrel spending and narrow political interests at the expense of intelligent defense planning. The Pentagon bureaucracy resisted pressure to shift to a wartime footing, dragging its feet on urgent military needs and neglecting to adequately care for wounded warriors. Gates found himself increasingly frustrated and came to see his main task as advocating for the frontline troops against the bureaucratic and political status quo. Young people who want to understand and live up to the highest ideals of American statesmanship would do well to read this book carefully; Gates has much to teach about the practical idealism that represents the best kind of American leadership.

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