Robert Gates’s Narcissistic ‘Duty’

The Inside-the-Beltway acclaim bestowed on Robert Gates is perhaps the clearest evidence of the failure of Washington’s media/political elite to recognize reality and impose accountability on incompetent or corrupt government officials, a point addressed by ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman.

By Melvin A. Goodman

Unlike the New York Times and the Washington Post, which received room service on the delivery of Duty, the controversial memoir of former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, I will have to wait for Amazon to deliver my copy next week.

In the meantime, since I have known Bob Gates for nearly 50 years, working with him for more than a decade; working for him for five years; and testifying against him before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1991, I believe that I have some warnings about the author as well as the leading lights of the mainstream media, such as David Brooks of the Times and Walter Pincus of the Post, who believe that Gates made major contributions to the national security policy of the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth.gates-duty

There are several things that need to be understood regarding Gates’s career at the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, and the Department of Defense. First of all, Gates has been a sycophant in all of his leadership positions, catering to the policy interests of Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft at the NSC; William Casey at the CIA; and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.

Gates catered to the right-wing ideology of Bill Casey in the 1980s, playing a major role in the politicization of intelligence and dangerous crossing the line of policy advocacy in private memoranda to the CIA director. For the most part, Gates has been a windsock when it came to policy decisions and typically supported his masters.

Second, Gates has never demonstrated the integrity that his important positions have demanded. As a result, when he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 to be CIA director, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman David Boren, D-Oklahoma, told him that the committee did not believe his denials of knowledge of Iran-Contra.

Before Gates removed his name from the nomination process, there was considerable laughter in the hearing room when Gates referred to Casey as a model CIA director and stated that he would have resigned from the CIA if had known about the “off-the-shelf” capability to run the Iran-Contra operation out of the NSC.

Gates was nominated a second time by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 and attracted more negative votes from the Senate (31) that all directors of central intelligence in the history of the CIA. I testified against his confirmation at that time (and I lobbied against his appointment as Secretary of Defense in 2006 to replace Donald Rumsfeld).

The day after the Senate Intelligence Committee approved Gates’s appointment to run the CIA in 1991, the Post’s legendary cartoonist, Herblock, pictured the CIA headquarters building with a big banner proclaiming, “Now under old management.”

Regarding Gates’s selection in 2006 to head the Defense Department, I encountered many key Senate staffers who opposed his appointment but believed that it was important to abort the stewardship of Rumsfeld. At that time, I labeled Gates the “morning after” pill.

Third, it is astounding that Gates, who had been a senior CIA Kremlinologist, could be so wrong about the central issues of his day and yet make it to the top of the intelligence ladder.

For example, in the late 1980s, there were these key questions facing CIA analysts on the Soviet Union: Who was Gorbachev? Was he serious? Would he make a difference? Was he serious about detente and arms control?

As late as 1989, Gates told various congressional committees that a “long, competitive struggle with the Soviet Union still lies before us” and that the “dictatorship of the Communist Party remains untouched and untouchable.”

In many ways, the most stunning aspect of Gates’s national security stewardship was his reappointment at the Defense Department by President Barack Obama in 2009. Indeed, the appointment of Hillary Clinton and the reappointment of Bob Gates were rather cynical gestures, naming Clinton to keep the Clinton Foundation (Bill and Hillary) inside the White House tent pissing out instead of outside the tent pissing in.

Gates was left in place so that the President could signal to the uniformed military that there would be no significant changes at the Pentagon. Gates’s Cold War ideology (which caused him to miss the end of the Cold War) and his politicization of intelligence were completely forgotten.

By the time that Gates’s decided to retire in 2011, President Obama was no longer following the Secretary of Defense’s advice on Afghanistan; the raid against Osama bin Laden; the handling of the insubordination of General Stanley McChrystal; and Gates’s heel-dragging on ending the cynical policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Gates decided to retire because he would not support a smaller military that would do fewer things and go to fewer places, but that is exactly what the President had finally endorsed.

President Obama would have saved himself a great deal of aggravation if he had consulted with former Secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker, whose memoirs record their difficulties with the efforts of Gates to weaken their policies and their diplomacy.

Shultz charged Gates with “manipulating” him, and reminded Gates that his CIA was “usually wrong” about Moscow. Gates was wrong about the biggest intelligence issues of the Cold War and he made sure that the CIA was wrong as well.

I can hardly wait for Amazon to deliver my copy of the memoir.

[For more on Gates’s curious history, see’s “Robert Gates Double-Crosses Obama.”]

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  His latest book is National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (City Lights Publishers, 2013). [A version of this story appeared at Counterpunch. It is reprinted with the author’s permission.]   

7 comments for “Robert Gates’s Narcissistic ‘Duty’

  1. mirageseekr
    January 13, 2014 at 19:45

    I thought it was common knowledge after the Iran-Contra affair that the only purpose the CIA really served was to turn drugs into black op’s money to wreck havoc around the globe. Gates and many like him still live in the cold war fantasy to try to justify those big budgets. Wake up American, both parties have a behind doors incestuous relationship that only serves big business. Schools and social programs collapsing, selling jobs out to NAFTA, TAFTA, and TTP. More millionaires in congress than any other time (both parties) All of congress and the alphabet soup agencies need a house cleaning, with REAL accountability and REAL transparency.

  2. Hillary
    January 10, 2014 at 08:49

    Mr. Gates is yet another evil man as can be seen in his photo.
    Amongst the evil actions he is responsible for was for the CIA to authorize, approve and assist Chilean Sr. Cardoen in the manufacture and sale of
    cluster bombs and other munitions to Iraq.

  3. Amanda Matthews
    January 10, 2014 at 08:19

    This man is horrid horrid horrid. He should have been relegated to a prison cell a long time ago.


    Top Ten Things Bob Gates was Wrong about, Some Criminal

    2. When he was a high official at the CIA in the mid to late 1980s, Gates was involved in selling Pentagon weaponry to the Ayatollah Khomeini. That’s right, the dreaded “biggest supporter of terrorism” in the world, the dire security threat to American allies. That Ayatollah Effing Khomeini. Iran was on the US terrorism watchlist at the time the Reagan administration was making the sales, so you couldn’t have done anything more illegal or hypocritical.

    3. Not only did the Reagan administration in which Gates served as a loyal capo illegally steal weaponry from Pentagon warehouses (they had no Congressional authorization to sell them, so it was all black money) and sell them to Iran, they inflated the price and used the extra money to support the right wing Nicaraguan death squads known as Contras. Gates went back and forth in his later testimony about how much he knew and when he knew of the diversion of funds from the (already illegal) sales of arms to Iran by Col. Oliver North. The Iran-Contra Commission report decided that he had to have known all about it. Congress had passed the Boland amendment forbidding Reagan from sending tax dollars to the Contras. Reagan contravened that Congressional legislation by misappropriating tax-payers’ money (spent on the weaponry sold to Iran), which is unconstitutional. Gates helped him. Among the activities of the nice Contras was killing leftwing nuns.

  4. Joe Tedesky
    January 9, 2014 at 13:11

    Mr Goodman, thanks for sharing your memories in regard to Bob Gates. It is good for someone like me to gather this knowledge you bring to this discussion. I am but a humble ‘News Junkie’ in my old age, but getting good news takes some real work. So, having your input is of real value.

    I wish that President Obama would have not picked the original Cabinet he went with. When all that was happening I just thought, ‘oh well’. It appears to me that there is a hidden hand or is it the establishment that runs the show. None the less if there was a more prominent quality news media then maybe things would make better sense. Sites like Consortiumnews are a great help, but the MSN is yet another story.

    Good article Mr Goodman, have a nice day!

    • Pelu Maad
      January 10, 2014 at 14:01

      I’ve often wondered how much Obama’s reverence for his grandfather played into his stunning reliance on the same old crew.

  5. F. G. Sanford
    January 9, 2014 at 12:50

    They did a great job airbrushing out the spider telangiectasia discoloration in Gates’ alcoholic complexion. All those blue and red blood vessels are kinda patriotic on that pasty white face. But for all those who are “Ready for Hillary”, Gates’ glowing accolades for his comrade in hypocrisy should be a real wake-up call. She’s a wind sock too, and as Gates points out, she was “for the surge before she was against it”. I hope people remember reality when primary season rolls around.

    • Pelu Maad
      January 10, 2014 at 13:58

      ..and on a lighter note…..Gates and Washington, pictured to his right, have the same tight lipped expression. Does Gates have wood dentures too?

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