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At the Summit

by Bing West

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, by Robert M. Gates (Knopf, 640 pp., $35)

Robert Gates served as secretary of defense during the pivotal war years of 2006 through mid 2011. His powerful memoir is insightful, tendentious, angry, elucidating, contradictory, and honest. Gates saw it as his duty to align military strategy with national policy. The policy objective was to build secure democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates concluded that that goal was unattainable — yet he appointed commanders who fervently pursued it. This imparts a sense of drama to his memoir.

The book will be widely purchased, but thinly read, owing to its length. Gates addresses five topics: fighting wars, managing the Pentagon, counseling presidents, negotiating with Congress, and coping with crises and canny world leaders. While he packed too much into one book, students of political power will study, not just skim, this book.

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