Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates was the one guy who was beyond reproach. A Republican with a distinguished record of serving Republican administrations who triumphed over partisanship to serve with honor a sitting Democratic President. The was the elevator speech about him before this week. Mr. Gates has decided to dish on President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – a sure-to-sell trifecta for books sales.
But apparently Mr. Gates doesn’t really tell us anything new. Mr. Obama didn’t believe his own policy backing a hopeless surge in Afghanistan. Of course he didn’t: press reports abounded at the time on how he was listening to all sides, told the military to reassess an aggressive assessment and scale it down, and how he was really looking for a withdrawal from an awful mess. Ultimately he settled on a compromise that would appease the generals – though not make them happy – and fulfill a campaign and administration policy for early withdrawal. None of what has been reported as sensational in the press about Gates’ book is particularly revelatory on this subject.
On Mr. Biden, Gates argues that the Vice President has a long history of being wrong on foreign policy issues. This, despite the fact, that he won six terms in the Senate and two as Vice President. It seems like someone would have noticed how wrong Mr. Biden has been somewhere along the way. Biden offered no argument for a surge for the most quaint of reasons – he didn’t believe it. And the real book on Joe is that he is nothing if not a straight shooter.
After Mrs. Clinton voted for the Iraq War in 2003, she wasn’t about to be bamboozled again by a policy doomed to failure. Gates argues that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama agreed that they opposed a surge in Iraq during the 2008 election campaign. Of course they did. They are Democrats who were running in a Democratic primary – and it looks like they had a passion to win. The surge was not a winner in the Democratic primaries.
Nor is a surge in Afghanistan a winner even today. The voters overwhelmingly favor the U.S. pulling out and are looking forward to the end of 2014 when that is supposed to largely happen. That sentiment is not even partisan. Several GOP commentators are already beating the drums about American weakness and suggesting we are giving up in Afghanistan. After 12 years?
Mr. Obama didn’t listen to the generals. Neither did Lincoln and Truman and they ended up just fine.
In my view, the Gates book – at least its rollout so far – has backfired. Sure, conservatives will be fired up. But they already were. Is there a GOP candidate who will push for the US to go back to Iraq to save Falujah, Ramadi, and a corrupt regime? Will anyone call for the US to beef up its support for President Karzai, who has nothing to show but contempt for this country?
Mr. Gates seems to have done a masterful job of reinventing himself from being a reasoned, bipartisan figure who put patriotism over pettiness to a bitter loser who became mad as hell and was not going to take it any more. In that respect, he emerges as a 21st Century Christina Crawford – except she at least did some real damage.