Wednesday, January 11, 2017

From the Shadows by Robert Gates

From the Shadows is a book by a member of one of the Washington establishment, Robert Gates. From the Shadows covers Gates' time at the CIA from 1969 to 1991. The book cover suggests that the book reveals the CIA under five presidents, but it mostly talks about Gate's interactions with the bureaucracy of the CIA and the various administrations, and reactions to various foreign actions. I say reactions here because they do a lot of forecasting and analysis, yet seem to be in a state of perpetual shock about events that aren't foreseen. Some highlights:

On page 47 Gates contends that detente under Nixon and Kissinger was successful, although liberals and conservatives agree (for different reasons) that detente was a failure. I would say this is faulty analysis. Viewed through the prism of history, detente was a failure, Reagan's policy of military and political strength to win the Cold War was much more successful.

On page 110 Gates contends that Carter wasn't as weak on defense as his critics contend, then details all the decisions that led to the critics making that conclusion, mostly Carter's decisions on weapons systems like the B-1. I would say that Carter's main foreign  opponents during his administration, the Iranians and the Soviets also believed that Carter was weak on defense and acted accordingly by taking the embassy in Tehran and invading Afghanistan. Here is a fundamental flaw that Gates and the rest of the Washington establishment seem to not get about leadership. It isn't about weapons systems and money, it's about backing up your words with steel when necessary. This may be a reflection of Gates service as an analyst, he was never a trigger puller, so he doesn't understand leadership, only management. He was an intelligence officer in the Air Force, but I don't really think that briefing ICBM crews in North Dakota or wherever makes you qualified as a trigger puller or head spook.

On page 190 Gates blamed his faulty analysis concerning Andropov in 1982 and the future (or lack thereof) of the Soviet Union on Andropov's short reign. But Andropov himself persuaded Brezhnev in 1981 to not invade Poland during the Solidarity movement, signaling an end to the Brezhnev doctrine which set up the conditions for the fall of the Soviet Union. Chief among those conditions being the Soviets lost their enthusiasm to intervene militarily in other states affairs after Afghanistan.

On page 208 Gates complains that the operators in in the early eighties weren't ethnically diverse enough. But he fails to mention that CIA recruited from the military officer ranks in high numbers, he himself was recruited this way. And the combat arms MOS's especially the special operations folks weren't too diverse either, even nowadays. And the special operations ranks are prime targets for CIA recruitment. This reveals another naive assumption that he doesn't explain well and once again shows a lack of realistic reasoning prevalent in the Washington Establishment and the among the CIA academics.

On page 293 Gates complains about the friction between CIA 'career professionals' and Casey. Apparently Casey and other 'right wingers' were skeptics about what the CIA analysts were putting out. Since the CIA seems to miss out on forecasting most of the main events of the latter half of the twentieth century most of the American population seems to share this skepticism. And of course there is the Iran Contra scandal which Gates spends a huge amount of time lamenting in the book. It's interesting that he talks so much about it in hindsight, nowadays the former Obama administration gives up $400 million to Iran for hostages and no one bats an eye.

On page 323 Gates sneeringly says "Finally, at least in Reagan's mind, the impression of American political and military weakness had been erased..." Gates takes down the Reagan administration at every opportunity in this novel and reveals the disdain the Washington establishment and he had for Reagan.

On 379 Gate complains that the operators complained that someone from the analytical side is taking over as Deputy Director of Central Intelligence. How did he expect them to act? How would any operator act if someone told them that a non-operator was taking control?

Don't get me wrong, the book is a good education on why the CIA gets so much wrong. Use it for that.