Robert Gates, an honest man and/or a guilty man?

In a new memoir, Robert Gates, who served two presidents as Secretary of Defense between December of 2006 and July of 2011, goes public with some of his thoughts concerning the two administrations he served.

In my opinion I would say this is a bit early to do so. George Bush is no longer a principal player in the nation’s affairs but President Obama of course still is. Did Gates believe that his disclosures would help the President? Why “tell” on the man at this point? Why not wait at least until he’s no longer in office?

Now Gates has always impressed me as an honest man and perhaps he genuinely feels that what he has to say about the present, and former administrations, will be helpful, as the subordinate’s telling the truth to the man in charge most always is.

In any case the brief account of the memoir, in today’s Times,
does give the impression that Gates is a perfectly honest man, speaking if not the truth, at least what his truth was during the time of his service.

Thom Shanker writes that it is Gates’s opinion that the president had lost faith in his own Afghan strategy:

At a pivotal meeting in the situation room in March 2011, Mr. Gates said, Mr. Obama opened with a blast of frustration over his Afghan policy — expressing doubts about Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander he had chosen, and questioning whether he could do business with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

And in the words of Gates himself: “As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,… For him, it’s all about getting out.”

An honest man, a faithful public servant, speaking his mind, he does seem to be all that although I still ask the question why at this point in time did he do so, that is, speak out? Similarly, why does he say while speaking of Joe Biden, that, while he doesn’t question the vice-President’s integrity he does question his judgment.

Gates: “I think he [Biden] has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Pretty strong! Does Gates himself ever say why he chose to make his disclosures, and give his judgments of the administration at this time? Well no at least in as far as I know for I haven’t read the memoir. But I do see within Shanker’s article perhaps what is a reason, one that is probably not all that different from whatever it was that pushed Edward Snowden to disclose thousands of classified National Security Agency documents.

In explanation the younger Snowden said of his action: “I can’t allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy and basic liberties.” And the older Gates, while he didn’t say it might have said, “I can’t allow it to be thought that this government, my government, but perhaps any government, is not capable of being wrong, and often is, and quite capable of keeping its mistaken policies from the eyes of the public.”

Here we are perhaps close to the real reason for his speaking out. Thom Shanker writes that in the memoir Gates describes how he came to feel “an overwhelming sense of personal responsibility” for the troops he ordered into combat, which left him misty-eyed when discussing their sacrifices — and perhaps clouded his judgment when coldhearted national security interests were at stake. In opposing military action in Libya, for example, he told participants in a White House meeting that the United States should end its current wars before sending American men and women in uniform off to start a new one. He was overruled.

Is ultimately Gates himself a guilty man, one who feels the guilt of having been a major part of the country’s strategy of sending young men to die for a cause and a war that were very probably mistaken? And therefore speaking out may be his way of relieving the guilt he most likely feels, especially now far from the war and holding a comfortable and secure position at his own alma mater, the College of William and Mary. In short being safe while young men are still being sent to fight in Afghanistan.

That’s how I would answer my own question. And in support of that interpretation is the fact that Gates tells us in his memoir that he wants to be buried in Arlington Cemetery’s Section 60, the final home for many killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. “The greatest honor possible, Gates writes in ending his memoir, “would be to rest among my heroes for all eternity.”

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