Highlights from Gates book “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War”

The cover of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates new book "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War." (Knopf)

The cover of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates new book “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.” (Knopf)

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ new book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” is one of he most talked about items in Washington this week. We have a copy of the book and I’ll be posting excerpts throughout the day for your Friday reading pleasure so check back often.

I’ll also be posting items on Twitter so make sure you follow @MarcusReports for the latest.

On 2010 speech at Vietnam national university: “As I entered the hall, funky dance and disco music was blaring, strobe lights were flashing and the audience — many young military officers but also a lot of young female students — was applauding, whistling and carrying on. I knew that the only way I would ever get such a rock star’s reception would be at the order of a dictatorship.”

On meeting troops from Texas A&M in combat: “I ran into Aggies in the war zones all the time, and it was always special for me, although encountering in combat zones those I had given their diplomas was always unsettling.”

On selecting a deputy: Gates said both he and then-President-elect Barack Obama tried to pressure John Hamre, president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to take the job as deputy secretary. Gates said he even laid a guilt trip on Hamre for not accepting the position.

On his former Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn: “Lynn and I would have a cordial relationship, but there was something missing in the chemistry between us. Bill’s earlier experience in Defense, I thought, had made him very leery of bold initiatives, and I never had the feeling he supported, or believed in, much of my agenda for changing the way the department did business.”

On the US Air Force KC-X tanker program: Gates describes the tanker battle between Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS-Airbus as one of two Air Force issues taking up the majority of his time in 2008. “Both companies, and supporters of both in Congress, were all, in my view, reprehensible in the tactics and distortions they employed to drive the Defense Department to a decision in their favor.” After one congressional hearing on the long-troubled program, Gates also said one of his staffers spotted Boeing ally Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., carrying talking points that still had the company’s letterhead.

Also, the late Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., was involved in removing the Air Force from the acquisition process after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found numerous issues in the way the service evaluated bids in selecting the Northrop/EADS aircraft. After GAO’s ruling, Murtha sent Gates a handwritten note that said: “You need to get rid of the AF acquisition team.” And Gates did just that.

On Jeh Johnson, former DoD general counsel: “[P]roved to be the finest lawyer I ever worked with in government.”

On the VH-71 presidential helicopter: “The program was the poster child for acquisition going off the rails,” Gates wrote. He chastised the White House for making requirements changes and the Navy for making “expensive engineering changes.” During one meeting with Obama, Gates told the president, each helicopter would cost between $500 million and $1 billion, “but that he could microwave a meal on it in the middle of a nuclear attack.” Obama, Gates wrote, thought continuing the program was a bad idea. “The blame belonged squarely on the White House, the Defense Department, the Navy … and the contractor.”

On his firing of Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley: Gates maintains he dismissed Wynne and Moseley over problems within the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise — mistakenly flying nuclear weapons on a B-52 bomber and mistakenly shipping missile parts to Taiwan — not over a public dispute over the number of F-22 Raptors the service should purchase. Still, Gates wrote: “nearly every time Moseley and … Wynne came to see me, it was about a new bomber or more F-22s.”

Marcus Weisgerber
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Marcus Weisgerber

Senior Pentagon Correspondent at Defense News
I write about broad-ranging policy, acquisition and budget issues affecting the US military.
Marcus Weisgerber
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