- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Let’s start with some insights from the first part of the book, about his time in the last two years of the Bush administration.
- To understand Dick Cheney, it is necessary to remember that he served in the White House during the Ford years, which Gates terms “the nadir of the modern American presidency.”
- The best questioner on the Iraq Study Group (a congressionally mandated review in the fall of 2006) was Sandra Day O’Connor, who had little experience in national security issues. “It was extraordinary to listen to her. From her years as a Supreme Court justice, she had an amazing ear for faulty logic, questionable evidence, inconsistency, and flawed analysis.”
- Gates states that on Nov. 5, 2006, when he first discussed becoming defense secretary with President Bush, that Bush told him he was looking at replacing Gen. George Casey in Iraq with Gen. David Petraeus. This is a month earlier than I have seen Petraeus mentioned as being on Bush’s mind as Casey’s replacement.
- At his confirmation hearing, listening to senators complain and fight, he thought to himself, “I have walked right into the middle of a category five shitstorm.”
- He considered the post-invasion handling of Iraq to have been “amazing bungling.” Unusually for this book, he doesn’t name names.
- When President Bush told the Joint Chiefs on Dec. 13, 2006, that he was considering a “surge” of troops to Iraq, “All of the chiefs unloaded on him.” Gates, who was in the room but not yet confirmed as defense secretary, “was struck by the service chiefs’ seeming detachment from the wars we were in.”
- When he travelled to Baghdad a few days later in a C-17 with a small trailer inside it for him to sleep in, “it was a lot like being FedExed halfway around the world.”
- In Baghdad, he met with Ray Odierno, then the no. 2 officer in Iraq, who “warned me regarding Casey’s plan” for the way forward in Iraq.
- Marine Gen. Peter Pace was dumped as chairman of the Joint Chiefs after two years because of the number of Republican senators (Warner, Chambliss, Graham, and McCain) who said they would not like the idea of renominating him because it would turn into a review of Iraq policy at a time when Republicans were sick of defending the Bush administration’s handling of that war. “I had, for all practical purposes, sacrificed Pete Pace to save the surge. I was not proud of that.”
- President Bush, in a discussion of Iraq policy in mid-2007, turned to Gates and said, “Somebody has got to be risk-averse in this process, and it better be you, because I’m sure not.”
- Iran was paying Iraqi legislators $250,000 each to vote against the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States, Petraeus told Gates.
(Much more to come)