Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. By Robert M. Gates. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. Photographs. Index. Pp. x, 618. $35.00 ISBN: 978-0-307-95947-8
Duty is Gates's memoir of his service as Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) under Presidents Bush and Obama. Throughout his tenure (2006-2011), he dealt with innumerable issues yet focused on a single theme: a deep concern for the lives of all soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gates had served under six presidents in various capacities, including CIA Director. He was a welcome replacement for the controversial Donald Rumsfeld, an ideologue bent on making the Pentagon kowtow. Considered by many a pragmatist and someone who would listen, Gates was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 95-2.
Gates dismissed both Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff Michael Mosley over the stewardship of nuclear weapons. He considered Air Force actions, such as the mistaken shipment of nuclear nose cones to Taiwan, a gradual erosion of nuclear standards and a lack of oversight by Air Force leadership. Although there were other accountable parties, Gates believed responsibility belonged at the top.
By his third year as Secretary in the first few months under President Obama, Gates drew up a consolidated list of priorities that dealt directly with service men and women. He wanted to further improve the process of getting equipment to the troops faster. He had done much during his first two years under President Bush in procuring mine-resistant, ambush-protected MRAP vehicles to replace Humvees that were too vulnerable to enemy weapons. Gates believed that by pushing Congress on this topic both he and those who supported the project had saved many American lives. Throughout his tenure Gates pressed for more intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. He also wanted to improve the issue of getting the wounded out of Afghanistan within an hour as had been done in Iraq. In addition, he wanted more focus on post-traumatic stress and the appalling rise in suicides. In addition, he also made a concerted effort to end "stop loss," the practice of retaining troops on active duty after their scheduled service time had expired--a most unpopular practice.
No recent President had faced the multitude of problems confronting Obama when he assumed office, and many of these would involve Gates: a foundering economy, two wars, the Iranian nuclear problem, economic instability throughout Europe, growing...