Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, the new book by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, is getting a lot of attention for what the author says about Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and vice president Joe Biden. Most of it has been apparent for some time but, fortunately, the memoir also reveals the wastefulness of war and the pitfalls of bureaucracy.
Gates laments the huge costs of the Iraq war, some $1 trillion, which resulted in thousands of American casualties and ended in “significant strengthening of Iran’s position in the region.” In Afghanistan Gates wonders “why are people fighting over this godforsaken place?” No clear answer emerges and Gates appears to have learned something. “Not every outrage, every act of aggression, every oppression, or every crisis can or should elicit an American military response.” That is because “wars are a lot easier to get in than get out of.” Other lessons involve the federal bureaucracy.
“In a place as big as the Defense Department,” Gates writes, “something is always going wrong.” For example, a B-52 left Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota with six air-launched cruise missiles, all nuclear armed. The B-52 landed in Louisiana with no security measures whatsoever. Likewise, a shipment of batteries to Taiwan actually contained four nose cones for Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Gates doesn’t get into it but something is always going wrong at all federal bureaucracies. Consider Obamacare, for example. HHS bosses can’t explain its colossal failures and nobody appears to be accountable. And according to experts, the dysfunctional federal health website remains 100 percent insecure. So as with the Defense Department, bureaucratic rule is dangerous and wasteful.
Big bureaucracies, Gates says, “rarely come up with significant new ideas.”
That should painfully obvious to all but the willfully blind. Unfortunately, as Duty emerges the current administration is not only expanding bureaucracy but hailing a top-down command approach to the economy and social policy. More bureaucratic waste, abuse and danger are doubtless in store for 2014.