My friend Chris Dunn had a good heads-up and sent me an article by Dave Weigel in Slate. It concerns the new, somewhat-controversial memoir by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Duty. The reason for the "somewhat" is that a good deal of his complaints have already been chided and even contradicted to a degree, from the few newsworthy excerpts that have been released.
I did get a chuckle from Weigel's analysis of the writing style of the book (whether it was Gates writing, or someone writing in his style from interviews is another matter), which puts the book in a bit of perspective. Weigel notes -- "Gates is a matter-of-fact, frills-free writer, the kind who can write with no irony that 'what you won’t find in the report of the Iraq Study Group was how much fun we had.'"
But it's Mr. Weigel's sharp eye that caught something in the book that is a particular hoot, and which in turns bursts some of Robert Gates' occasional displeasure. Weigel follows the sentence above and describes the set-up to the notable passage --
"This style leads to one moment of apparently unintentional mirth. So: It's the fall of 2010, and Gates is meeting with the president and top brass. 'Biden, Mullen, Jones, Donilon, Brennan, and Tony Blinken, the vice president’s national security adviser, were there.' The subject: how to be ready if a conflict between Iran and Israel ignites. Gates worries that the particulars have not thought the scenario through, and advises the president to deploy a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf soon, just in case. The meeting ends."
And then, from the book, Mr. Gates writes petulantly --
"I was put off by the way the president closed the meeting. To his very closest advisers, he said, "For the record, and for those of you writing your memoirs, I am not making any decisions about Israel or Iran. Joe, you be my witness." I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters."
It's going to far to wonder about someone's judgment who would write that in a memoir (though it does seem appropriate to question the choice of an editor who would let that in. Not even a, "Er, Mr. Gates, do you think that maybe that makes you look foolish at best, and clueless at worst??") But at the very least, it provides the Law of Unintended Consequences -- his attempting to make the president look bad, and ending up making Mr. Obama appear very smart and prescient.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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