Gates of Wrath

Vice-President elect Joseph Biden (R) smiles with with US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates during a press conference in Chicago, Illinios, on December 1, 2008. President elect Barack Obama nominated his former rival Hillary Clinton to be the next US secretary of state, as he unveiled a raft of cabinet picks. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Joe Biden and Bob Gates during a news conference back in happier days in December 2008, when Gates agreed to stay on as secretary of defense. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates’s controversial  new memoir, “Duty,” contains an explicit and useful warning to future presidents:

In your first term, never, ever appoint someone to a senior post that will be his or her last job in government. You will likely come to regret it — a sentiment President Obama, Vice President Biden and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton may be feeling quite keenly these days. (The advice is especially important when that appointee is not a member of your political party or has no personal relationship with you.)

Second term? No problem. Secretary of State John Kerry, for example, can say whatever he wants in his memoir, and who cares? Obama will be out of office. And Obama’s book could well come out before Kerry’s.

Meanwhile, Gates and Osama bin Laden may not have agreed on much, but their views of Biden are truly harsh.

In his book, Gates slams Biden for being “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Gates’s nasty shot at Biden seems to reflect terrorist  bin Laden’s views of the vice president, expressed in a document found in Pakistan during the 2011 Navy SEALs raid and killing of Bin Laden:

“Obama is the head of infidelity and killing him automatically will make Biden take over the presidency for the remainder of the term, as it is the norm over there,” bin Laden wrote to an associate. “Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the US into a crisis.”

On the other hand, our colleague Max Fisher notes that Gates, as the CIA’s top Kremlinologist back in the Reagan administration, was wrong about the most “important issue he ever faced“: whether Gorbachev might be a different kind of Soviet leader and worth dealing with to try to end the Cold War.

Gates strongly, and wrongly, insisted that Gorbachev was cut from the same cloth as his Soviet predecessors.  (This might explain why, if memory serves, Gorbachev appeared to refuse to shake hands with him at the Kremlin when Gates traveled there with Secretary of State James Baker  back in 1990. When Baker introduced Gates, Gorbachev said something like: “I know who you are.” )

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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Al Kamen · January 8