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Gates and the Duty Dilemma

For extras, you despise virtually every member of Congress. Hearings are contentious, often rude. Members are playing politics all the time. It takes forever and a week to get anything done. Plus there's the Pentagon, where, of all places, lots and lots of officials and officers don't seem to know that we're at war. There's very little urgency about protecting troops, and these guys just continue business as usual, without insisting that we get new vehicles into Iraq and then Afghanistan that will do better against the enemy's most effective weapons (the Iranian-made IEDs and other "roadside bombs" and their ilk).

What to do?

The Washington wisdom says you either stay and suffer, do the best you can, or take your marbles home to the Great Northwest. You stayed for a couple of years, which Washington generally calls "the honorable thing." That's of a piece with your history. After all, you were brought in -- to replace Rumsfeld -- to preside over the retreat from Iraq, only to find that the policy had changed, and you then loyally and effectively presided over the surge.

You left for a reason that seemingly has nothing to do with policy disagreements, or the quality of political leadership. You left because you had become so emotionally close to the troops that you couldn't talk to them or about them without choking up. You realized that you were no longer capable of reasoning objectively about war.

For me, that's a truly honorable decision. You decided your decisions couldn't be trusted any more, which meant you couldn't do your job properly, and so you went home. Bravo.

Then you wrote Duty. It's not nearly as polemical as the published excerpts suggest. Big chunks of the book's six hundred (!) pages deal with bureaucratic maneuver, and few readers will want to plow through the lengthy descriptions -- complete with substantial quotations -- of the internal fights over "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," or funding for various aircraft. Anyway, your concerns by and large have to do with people, not with policy decisions, with which (to repeat) you don't have very many fundamental disagreements. You are offended by the lack of professionalism, by the excessive role of ideology (the Obama loyalists truly believed that everything Bush did was wrong; this wasn't "spin"); in short by the amateurishness of the top leaders, especially Biden and the National Security staffers.

You were an old-fashioned professional -- a throwback to the WASP elite that ruled Washington in your formative years -- surrounded by a crowd of new-breed activists who, as products of our failed educational system (about which I wish you had had more to say; after all, you were president of Texas A&M for several years), don't know scuff from Shinola about the world and its history. You don't understand them very well, nor their intimate bond with the president. You remark that Obama lacks passion (quoting his line to you that he ran for president in considerable part because he was "bored in the Senate"), yet those phalanxes of activists are very passionate, and they are there because he wants them there. Did you not consider the possibility that they are the foot soldiers for Obama's passions?