The talk about former Defense Secretary Bob Gates’ blistering new memoir “Duty” has focused on the description of President Barack Obama’s tense 2011 Situation Room meeting with his top military advisers. A frustrated Obama expresses doubts about General David Petraeus, then U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and questions whether the administration can do business with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
“As I sat there,” Gates wrote, “I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
Republicans quickly seized on these criticisms as proof Obama was a dithering commander in chief. Democrats, in turn, hailed Obama for standing up to the Pentagon brass.
Yet the book — and the reactions to it — represents something far larger: a fundamental, post-Iraq and Afghanistan change in how Americans view the use of military force. Gates, joining Obama, liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans, is arguing that Washington relies on military intervention far too often.
“Today, too many ideologues call for U.S. force as the first option rather than a last resort,” Gates wrote in a short excerpt that ran in the Wall Street Journal. “On the left, we hear about the ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians to justify military intervention in Libya, Syria, Sudan and elsewhere. On the right, the failure to strike Syria or Iran is deemed an abdication of U.S. leadership.”