Exercise in Power is written from a perspective somewhere in the middle — call it the view from the deputy’s chair, which Gates, at different points in his long career, occupied at both the C.I.A. and the National Security Council ... On the surface, the book is conventional. It starts with a list of all the tools national security policymakers can draw on, from military force and economic sanctions to diplomacy, foreign aid and beyond, and ends with wise advice. What makes it special is what comes between—a dozen case studies of how the last six administrations have used those tools in managing post-Cold War security challenges including China, Russia, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and the rest. The familiar stories gain new life and interest when told by somebody who’s been in the room where it happens. Gates says what he thinks and refuses to pull his punches and, as a result, the book offers in one volume the most accurate record available of recent American security policy, the most incisive critique of that policy and the most sensible guide to what should come next ... His tone is judicious and nonpartisan, and he grades all the administrations fairly according to his standards of professional competence ... what gradually emerges from the book are the outlines of an alternative approach to foreign policy and national security ... Looking ahead, the approach Gates offers would be a plausible way to begin repairing the damage to America’s international position wreaked by the Trump administration ... Gates is cut from the same cloth as Marshall, and he too has written a lucid, constructive manual to pass on his hard-earned wisdom. Hopefully there are still some left to listen.
When the next president of the United States looks for nonmilitary means to achieve objectives abroad and to begin restoring America’s standing in the world, he would do well to read Robert M. Gates’s important new book ... Gates rightly focuses on the uses and misuses of American power in the seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ... He gives the reader a brief tutorial on exactly what the term includes ... a cornucopia of alternative means that Gates successfully avoids calling soft power; he spends the balance of the book unpacking them in specific case studies where they sometimes worked and more frequently weren’t deployed. He argues persuasively that they were our most effective weapons during the Cold War ... Gates skims over Obama's success ... In a serious omission, Gates ignores climate change in any discussion of strategic priorities ... Nonetheless, Gates’s policy and strategic advice to future decision-makers more than outweighs its blemishes and omissions. He skillfully blends the knowledge and discipline of a scholar with the hard-earned experience of a practitioner to produce a well-organized and superbly written book to lead America forward into a very different and challenging new world, and it is here that Gates’s admonitions are most compelling.
Gates is right that the State Department is both woefully underfunded and also lacking experts who can help in places like Afghanistan ... Gates bemoans the loss of USIA (United States Information Agency) due to budget cuts in the late 1990s, which was key in opening libraries and cultural centers around the world and also bringing students to the U.S. for study. But can an exchange of young people from, let's say, Egypt, counter American support for repression?
This work is not a political treatise, and remains accessible throughout as the author defines 15 components as tools that administrations have used to define power ... This important work dives deep into the past three decades of American foreign policy to provide a realistic picture of how key policy decisions were crafted. Highly recommended for those wanting an examination of America’s role within the global community.
The author relies on a half-century of service to critique the presidents who have come after them ... Though critics of Gates will dismiss some of his programmatic recommendations—such as, say, don’t replace one dictator with another without a good plan in place—it’s refreshing to see a secretary of defense call for the use of the military as a choice of last resort ... Recommended reading for foreign policy and geopolitics wonks.
... incisive ... Gates participated in many of the White House situation room episodes he describes, and he’s both a sharp critic of Washington, D.C.’s policy-making bureaucracies and a shrewd analyst of the dilemmas they wrestle with. The result is a judicious yet bracingly contrarian take on military and foreign policy from the ultimate insider.