Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is visiting Joint Base Lewis-McChord Saturday to sign copies of his new wartime autobiography, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”
The book was released last month with a surge of press attention that centered on Gates’ criticism of Vice President Joe Biden as likable but “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades” and Gates’ observation that President Barack Obama’s heart did not seem to be in accomplishing the mission in Afghanistan even as he weighed proposals to send more troops there.
“I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” Gates wrote.
Gates served as defense secretary from 2006 to 2011. President George W. Bush brought him on after the 2006 midterm elections in which Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, which was interpreted as a rebuke to the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq War under the leadership of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Gates is the only defense secretary to serve under two presidents from different parties. He’s also a former Air Force intelligence officer, CIA director and president of Texas A&M University.
His observations about politics in the Obama administration received the most press attention on the book’s release, but his memoir also details his campaign to win support for the 2007 “surge” of troops into Iraq, his “war on the Pentagon” to speed up acquisitions of life-saving equipment for troops in the Middle East and his response to allegations in The Washington Post that wounded veterans were being neglected at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Gates in 2007 demanded the resignation of Army Secretary Francis Harvey in response to the failures at Walter Reed. Gates also then backed efforts to expand so-called warrior transition units to care for wounded troops coming home from the wars.
He characterized President George W. Bush as bold in supporting the Iraq "surge" despite opposition from lawmakers and from within the military. He does not explicitly criticize Rumsfeld's handing of the war, but he noted that Bush once told him he should have changed defense secretaries earlier.
Gates wrote that he stayed in office out of a sense of duty to military service members and their families who made great sacrifices during the wars. The book includes several scenes in which he grows teary-eyed visiting ceremonies for fallen troops and the hospitals where the most severely wounded soldiers receive medical care.
He plans to be buried with them at Arlington National Cemetery. "The greatest honor possible would be to rest among my heroes for all eternity,” he wrote.
Gates is especially critical of Congress in his memoirs, writing that lawmakers carried a “wallet list” that they would bring up when they met him to pitch projects that were important to the economies of their home states.
For instance, his one description of a lawmaker from Washington State characterizes Democratic Sen. Patty Murray as carrying Boeing-drafted talking points to hearings on the Air Force’s multi-billion dollar refueling tanker contract.
At the time, Washington State lawmakers were making the case for Boeing while elected officials from Alabama were pitching a competing bid from EADS North America. Boeing in 2011 won the $35 billion contract to build the KC-46A and its first test models are expected to fly this year.
Gates wrote that lawmakers often were cordial with him behind closed doors but outlandish in public hearings.
“I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country.”
Gates is scheduled to sign books from noon to 2 p.m. at Lewis-McChord’s post exchange on the Army side of the base.