In a flurry of leaks, advance excerpts and reviews, Robert Gates has put the President and his White House on the kind of political griddle he professes to abhor.
In his book, Gates says he “bristled at what's become of congressional hearings, where rude, insulting, belittling, bullying and all too often highly personal attacks on witnesses by members of Congress violated nearly every norm of civil behavior. Members postured and acted as judge, jury and executioner...in a permanent state of outrage or suffered from some sort of mental duress that warranted confinement or at least treatment for anger management.
“I continue to worry about the incessant scorched-earth battling between Congress and the president (which I saw under both Bush and Obama) but even more about the weakening of the moderate center in Congress.”
No one will argue with that, but in view of excerpts from Gates’ memoir, questions arise about his own anger management, not only over Congress but White House colleagues like Vice-President Joe Biden, “a man of integrity,” who “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Say what? Is this the same Biden who, as a Senator, appeared regularly on Sunday talk shows, to criticize and question the misbegotten war in Iraq that Gates was helping the Bush Administration to conduct?
The political flood of finger-pointing that he has unleashed will go on for a while but, in a back-handed way, Gates may have done a service for those who question the sanity of our continuing investment of so much blood and treasure in the Middle East by bringing the issue front and center.
The propriety of his doing it now is another issue entirely. For a man who entitles the book “Duty,” his timing raises questions that infuriated John F. Kennedy when he was in the White House.
In 1962 when former speech writer Emmet Hughes wrote a tell-all about his Eisenhower days, Kennedy was appalled. According to Ted Sorensen, Kennedy thought Hughes "had betrayed the trust of Republican officials by quoting their private conversations against them" and told his White House staff, "I hope no one around here is writing that kind of book."
No one did. Both Sorensen and Schlesinger wrote doorstop volumes about JFK’s White House tenure without a hint of gossip. Loyalty did not stop at his death.
We live in a different world now, but reading Gates’ unbuttoned book, it would be wise to remember that it is the work of a man who, although he says he “silently wept” at night for troops in Afghanistan, served all his “Duty” as a Washington spook, not in combat.
Whatever else he says about Obama’s White House, the people Gates is excoriating in his untimely memoir had actually been trying to stop their bleeding while he was still micro-managing it at the CIA and in the White House.