EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

January 19, 2014

Column: An ex-defense secretary goes on the offense

The secretary of defense knew it was time to go, even though his war, still painfully un-won, was destined to drag on with no certainty of a satisfying outcome.

And near the end, there was a public moment when emotion overtook this SecDef who was famous among his insiders for being cool and controlled in tough times.

It happened in the White House East Room when the president presented his secretary of defense with the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a commander in chief can give a civilian. The secretary, overwhelmed by emotion, fought one last battle before losing to the tears that filled his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. “I cannot find the words to express what lies in my heart,” he said, “and I guess I better respond on another occasion.”

That was February 1968 and it was not until 1995 when former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara found the words that were really in his heart that day and every day since. Long after President Lyndon Johnson was dead, McNamara wrote the words Johnson would never have wanted to read: “We were wrong, terribly wrong.”

Fast forward to now. Another long-serving defense secretary, Robert Gates, has just produced a memoir that, while it couldn’t compare to the shock of McNamara’s tragic admission, has nevertheless stunned the world within Washington’s Beltway.

Gates, who spent five years prosecuting troubled wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, rushed to deliver his book (titled “Duty”) so it would be read before the 2016 presidential campaign.

Gates’ book castigates Obama and his White House. He is right when he complains about the tight, controlling ways of Obama’s White House -- but that’s just standard Washington payback.

It’s the heart of Gates’ book that stunned even Gates’ Republican allies -- for he harshly criticizes the motives of his former boss and current president. Here Gates seems to have co-authored his memoir with his polar-opposite twin. Gates seems of two minds in his memoir.

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