Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s 594-page memoir “Duty” is getting a lot of ink for his revelations of disputes over Afghan policy with the National Security Council and President Barack Obama.
There’s another side of Gates that readers may savor as the tome goes on sale Jan. 14.
An Eagle Scout who cultivated a restrained, urbane image in public presentations and news conferences, Gates comes off as somewhat cruder in his memoir, dropping precision-guided “f-bombs” in conversations with White House officials and then-Afghanistan commander Army General Stanley McChrystal, among others, for example.
With McChrystal, Gates asked “what the f*** were you thinking” in giving a Rolling Stone reporter access to write an article that led to his 2010 resignation.
“Deeply fearful of its impact, for once I couldn’t contain my anger,” he said, explaining the outburst.
Similarly, Gates took a shot at former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley claiming the administration reneged on providing additional money for the 2011 Libya military operation: “You didn’t give us a f***king dime.”
After the successful May 2011 Navy SEAL commando raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, Gates writes, he told White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, “Why doesn’t everyone” at the White House “shut the f*** up” about raid details, “to no avail.”
Then there was the time Gates bonded with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who “became well known for terrorizing everyone” with his own street-styled vocabulary. Gates, during a “heated” argument with Emanuel, “dropped several ‘f-bombs.’”
“He said admiringly that he didn’t know I could talk like that and seemed to treat me with new respect.”
Even the secretary’s aides occasionally displayed South Park potty mouths. After the Chinese military in January 2010 surprisingly rolled out the new J-20 stealth jet when Gates arrived for a visit: “As one of my China policy experts insightfully expressed it, ‘this is about as big a f*** you as you can get.’ ”
In writing of the Republican and then Democratic presidents he served, Gates acknowledges that he wasn’t destined to bond over sport with them.
“Just as I was not into mountain biking so I missed my sports bonding opportunity with” George W. Bush, he writes, “I was a foot too short, too athletically inept and too old be considered for the Obama presidential basketball team nor did I play golf… So our two and half years together were spent almost exclusively in the Oval Office and White House Situation Room.”
That didn’t prevent Gates, an avid canoeist, from achieving superhero status of sorts. He was presented a Superman costume for a birthday by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England.
And remember the now iconic photo of President Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton watching a video feed of the Bin Laden assault?
Shortly after the raid a friend sent a photoshopped version depicting Obama as Superman, Biden as Spiderman, Clinton as Wonder Woman and “I, for some reason, was the Green Lantern,” Gates writes.
The clever spoof had “an important substantive effect on me” because Gates realized photos of a dead Bin Laden could also be photoshopped in “disrespectful ways certain to outrage Muslims everywhere and place Americans at greater risk.”
The spoof was a factor in the Obama administration’s decision not to release any photos.
Oh, on the Salsa Dip.
Gates says it was his salvation during Bush-era meetings: “I drank a huge amount of coffee and the only saving grace of late-afternoon meetings at the White House was homemade tortilla chips with cheese and salsa dip. Still, all too often I found myself bored and impatient.”
Postscript: Gates’s memoir, in an accident of timing, will be released as the movie “Lone Survivor” about a 2005 SEAL mission in Afghanistan gone bad hits the screens nationwide.
The version we saw in December provided no context of the time or status of U.S. operations.
Three SEALS as well as 16 Army special forces soldiers sent to rescue them died in “the first significant American encounter with a revitalized Taliban” after the U.S. let Afghanistan relapse when it invaded Iraq.
“American casualties that day were the worst yet in a single engagement in the Afghan War and a wake-up call that the Taliban had returned,” Gates writes.
And did we mention who Gates considered, and recommended, for his replacement?
Gates, as he contemplated retirement in late 2010, wrote a short-list for preferred successors including retired Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director Leon Panetta and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Gates eventually settled on recommending Panetta.