The book is a sweeping tale written by former American Secretary of Defense Gates offering a view of the uses and limitations of the American exercise of power in the modern era. The author notes that America remains the world’s foremost superpower but that does not mean that they are not challenged at every turn: China is growing economically, with its political influence broadening; Russia “is aggressively threatening and attempting to destabilize Western democracies and dominate its neighbors” and small states from North Korea to Iraq and Syria remain hot spots even as several NATO members become ever more autocratic.
Recent political leaders, Gates holds, have failed to understand and project the American exercise of power properly, certainly as compared to Eisenhower, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. The author relies on a half-century of service to critique the presidents who have come after them. On the military front, he urges the application of Bush’s cautious approach to Iraq in the first Gulf War: define the objectives clearly, bring overwhelming force and then get out. Career diplomats, though bureaucratized, are essential to the application of nonmilitary power. Economic power constitutes another instrument.
Here, Gates takes Trump to task for an isolationist approach that leaves the door open to China to take the place of the US. Other failures are the invasion of Iraq in 2003, although the author disputes the claim that George W. Bush knowingly lied about weapons of mass destruction. Though critics of Gates will dismiss some of his programmatic recommendations such as do not replace one dictator with another without a good plan in place but it is refreshing to see a secretary of defense call for the use of the military as a choice of last resort. The Weekender