The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014


Past Secretary of Defense under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Bob Gates, has created quite a stir among the political class with his new memoir, Duty. It provides a inside-Washington look at the current state of leadership in this country and it is, to put it mildly, not kind to Barack Obama. For those who haven't read excerpts, The Daily Beast and The Wall Street Journal both provide excellent summaries. Suffice to say that Bob Gates has nothing good to say about the Congress and very little good to say about this President.

Gate's portrait of Barack Obama and his administration comes as no surprise to those of us who saw through the media-manufactured and closely controlled image of the candidate and then President and his people. So in a way, Gates provides confirmation, but little that is surprising.

Richard Fernandez comments of Gate's book:
Catching a glimpse of how Washington works through vignettes is fascinating. It seems to be a city populated with ghosts, whose projected images are more substantial than the actual persons themselves. It’s the Hologram, not Princess Leia that actually seem to matter. The miniature figures are on closer inspection such miserable specimens they are hardly worth notice, no more noteworthy then DMV clerks until one realizes they have the power of life and death over billions.

But they are a population which has lost all sense of purpose. Lying is no longer an act that is attended by much danger, but an actual patriotic duty. Lives or lost health seem not to count for much. The whole place is bathed in haze where words like “victory, jobs, honor” have blurred out so much you can hardly make them out except in dim outline. Do these concepts still exist? Or is it all about spin, news cycle and make-up?

What will it take to jar things back into focus? That is perhaps the biggest unanswered question of 2014. And what would anyone take for an answer?

I would add that my disappointment in Robert Gates is not because he was the worst man in the administration, but rather because he was probably one of the better. Times of trial are paradoxically harder on men who must struggle with their consciences than on those who are unburdened by them. But there is the understandable temptation to go along; to persuade oneself that leaving the field would only result in the SECDEF position going to a hack. Better to moderate things from the inside. Better … better… until in 2009 he wanted to resign but was persuaded to stay on out of loyalty to the institution perhaps. And thus is honor turned upon itself.

There comes to mind the famous speech of the character “Ernst Janning” in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg. Janning played the part of a decent judge fallen in with Nazi officialdom. The allied tribunal hears witness after witness testifying to his sterling character. It is enough to get him off but near to acquittal he makes a statement indicting himself. ‘I am guilty’, he said, ‘guiltier than anyone, because unlike these morons on the stand with me, I knew better than they.’
I believe that Gates, a good man, stayed because he thought he could temper the incompetence, the divisiveness, and the incoherence of a President and a staff that were in far over their heads. But in the end, no single person can stop the onslaught. Depressing.