Robert Gates saw government from both sides

Tom West, West Words

Tom West, West Words

When I worked in Duluth, the paper that I worked at had a policy to endorse candidates in every race for the city council, school board, county board and state Legislature. It was a big production, and we would do two-day marathons, interviewing every candidate for 30 minutes each, breaking only for lunch.

At one point, I had a young reporter on the staff, and he tended to bad-mouth local government officials mercilessly in the office. I finally decided to put him on the endorsement panel, figuring, if nothing else, the rest of us could outvote him if necessary. I was hoping, however, to give him some better insight into how the candidates think, and to help him understand that, regardless of political persuasion, all of these people were well-meaning and each brought certain strengths to the table.

My plan worked like a charm, and after going through the marathon, the young reporter not only learned a lot, but also came away with a better understanding of who the candidates were — that they were human beings wanting to do the right thing, and not just punching bags to be used for partisan jollies.

I thought about that experience recently while reading “Duty” by Robert M. Gates. The book is as fine a memoir on contemporary American politics as I have read.

Gates served as Secretary of Defense from 2006 to 2011. That means that he served under Republican President George W. Bush, and then was kept on by Democratic President Barack Obama.

Gates goes through the list of principal actors in both administrations, and while he makes it clear that he liked some more than others, he treats all with respect, and with full appreciation for the challenges they faced together.

A good example of that is his description of the effort to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Guantanamo was a campaign issue in 2008, and Obama wanted to close it. However, here we are six years later and it remains open. Why?

Because the “war” against those Islamic extremists who want to kill Americans goes on. Because bringing 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad to New York for a regular criminal trial would have been prohibitively expensive. Because many of the prisoners’ nations of origin refuse to take them back. Etc. Etc.

In this new kind of war, these prisoners are not exactly common criminals nor are they simply prisoners of a war between nation-states. In some ways, in spite of what the ACLU may say, our laws do not fit the situation.

Obama, faced with the responsibility of keeping Americans safe, determined that it is best for now to keep it open, even though his goal remains to close it.

Gates goes on at great length about the difficulty of getting the right generals in charge of the war effort. Like Lincoln, Bush had great difficulty in finding the right general until he and Gates put Gen. David Petraeus in charge.

Throughout the narrative, however, Gates is respectful of all the generals, noting that they were true patriots trying to serve the country they loved. It wasn’t until the troop surge of 2007 under Petraeus leadership that the U.S. was able to turn the tide of war in its favor.

At the same time, Gates expresses frustration because, like the rest of America, the Pentagon continued to act with a peacetime attitude even as it was sending soldiers off to war. Getting the vehicles and equipment soldiers needed to protect themselves from IED explosions was vexing. Even worse was the lackadaisical attitude of some in the Pentagon toward setting a policy for medevac-ing wounded soldiers within one hour.

Gates doesn’t duck any issues, including the controversial decision made by Obama to abandon the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays in the military. Gates said he was warned by some senior enlisted personnel that overturning the policy would result in some gays being murdered by their own side in combat. However, he backed Obama’s decision because he felt that if the courts made the decision before the administration did — a real possibility — the consequences for the military, gays and for national readiness would have been far worse.

The most difficult period of his term as Secretary of Defense came, not surprisingly, immediately after Obama took office. He sat in many national security meetings in which members of the new administration talked about the campaign issue that they had a lot of repair work to do because so many nations hated the U.S. Gates said that had not been his experience, that many nations around the globe had been not only willing but anxious to work with the United States.

Because none of Obama’s top advisers had military experience, it was a learning experience for everyone — including Gates.

And finally, recalling Bush’s comment that he had looked in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eyes and “got a sense of his soul,” when Gates looked in Putin’s eyes, he saw “a stone cold killer.”

“Duty” is a great read for any American who wants to put partisanship aside.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or email tom.west@mcrecord.com.

  • robin hensel

    nice advertisement for his book…..however, lacks journalistic excellence. Is this the best you can do for topics in a local paper?

    • Jody Scott Olson

      Funny!

    • tmac

      I do not see why this is not a relevant topic for a local paper.

      • josh

        Because nothing is ever good enough for Ms. Hensel. She cries about upholding the constitution then stands up for an unconstitutional mess which is Obamacare and fight for Obama who unconstitutionally didn’t uphold his own law or DOMA. We cant expect perfection out of anyone. Tom west isn’t what is wrong with this state or nation.

  • Jeff

    Thank You Mr West for your insight and wisdom week after week! Certain people in our community could learn a lot from the first two paragraphs (below) of your most recent article. (Agreed! Duty,is a great read!)
    At one point, I had a reporter on the staff, and he tended to bad-mouth local government officials mercilessly. I finally decided to put him on the endorsement panel, figuring, if nothing else, the rest of us could outvote him if necessary. I was hoping, however, to give him some better insight into how the candidates think, and to help him understand that, regardless of political persuasion, all of these people were well-meaning and each brought certain strengths to the table.

    My plan worked like a charm, and after going through the marathon, the reporter not only learned a lot, but also came away with a better understanding of who the candidates were — that they were human beings wanting to do the right thing, and not just punching bags to be used for partisan jollies.

    • robin hensel

      Jeff…..when an individual that is a city staff…government official or elected representative of the people, they are obligated to perform their duties thoroughly. If they are not, informing the public about their poor performance is a civic duty. There is much negative about Gates to be said. Elected officials all swear an oath to uphold the Constitution. Many in this area and beyond have not honored that oath. That’s one big problem in this “quaint little river town with the great big problems.” During the last 2 plus years i have gleaned much info that will shed much light to the public going forward. I can’t wait to use it! Stay tuned….elections are coming. 2014 might prove to be the most interesting year yet.

      • Jeff

        This I do not doubt, but as Mr. West’s article reads: Behind the board member/elected official there is a human being that deserves to be treated as such. All of the board members including the Mayor are very good people and an asset to the community as well as their elected position. If one looks into their civic/volunteer work alone each of these individuals has taken on, it is highly commendable! Now is the time to: Unite! not Devide!
        We Live in a wonderful community, I want to say “Thank You” to all the elected officials for your hard work and dedication in keeping this quaint little river town a great place to live, work, and raise a family. God Bless America! And, God Bless Little Falls!

        • robin hensel

          Aaawwww….i can hear the violins playing…the “kindness” dripping off the page…..but paleeease don’t falsely associate patriotism with the clowns at city hall that don’t honor our Constitution.

          • Jeff

            Typical Hensel! Stealing my words from a previous discussion. Here’s a new one for you……… The clowns at city hall (your words) and the majority of citizens in this fine town do more by waking up in the morning than you and your band of entitlement hounds will, or have done, in a lifetime!! Get a job!! Maybe try doing something productive for a change and maybe, just maybe, you won’t be such a bitter human being.

          • Jody Scott Olson

            Entitlement hounds? Is that code for people who are disabled? The retired collecting Social Security? Medicare? Medicaid? I do think we need a clearer definition of which demographic of our community you are blaspheming? Or do you presume the entitlements collected by your parents, and grandparents are somehow different because you’ve personally deemed them to be people legitimately”entitled”?

            I’ve earned the majority of my living as a non profit administrator,mostly 503 c3 political action committee’s. Community organizing, even a stint as registered lobbyist for Washington consumer group. To suggest that activism and grassroots organizing is unproductive is ludicrous. Everyday people are and always have been the catalyst for the majority of state and federal statutes, to say otherwise is absurd.

            ” majority of citizens in this fine town do more by waking up in the
            morning than you and your band of entitlement hounds will, or have done,
            in a lifetime!! ”

            I beg to differ.

          • Jeff

            Jody, you are really a small person to lump disabled and retired people in with the entitlement community. You know exactly what I was/am talking about! Shame on you! That was really a cheap shot on a group that cannot defend themselves nor help their situation. Belittling me, and people that don’t agree with you is one thing….. But to pick on the disabled and retired community? Pssssh! Hope your proud of yourself!!

          • robin hensel

            Jeff….you are kidding right? I am physically disabled and you just ridiculed me for being a freeloader. …..a few comments ago on another comment thread…..see Gates article by tom west… You said it twice in one comment. Get outta here…..who do you think you are foolin? You are displaying your hypocrisy better than you know. Hang onto your asshat …..you are going to need every ounce of energy to get through the week. Shalom

          • Jeff

            No one called you a free loader or freeloader? It was a simple question asking you your job title? Okay, Okay, sorry! That was kind of a cheap shot! I am big enough to admit it:) P.S. Whats an asshat?

          • robin hensel

            Ask mark fyten what asshat is. Glad you admit to cheap shot.

          • Jody Scott Olson

            funny

          • Jody Scott Olson

            I didn’t write the definition of the word “entitlement” …I didn’t write the dictionary, I didn’t even write Wikipedia. Entitlement programs by definition do encompass the retired, people collecting social security and the disabled. You were the one who took the latitude to bash the entire group.

            Like you, most American’s who vote to cut or end “entitlements” don’t realize that they are discussing benefits they collect and or use. And you used the word “entitlement” as a pejorative, referring to Robin, who does have a disability, as a “freeloader.”

            The reason our local school district finally implemented all of the American’s with Disability Act and section 504 of education law was me, filing a civil rights complaint with the Dept of Ed…me going to bat for my daughter who is completely missing part of her immune system…which is by legal definition, a disability. Prior to that, the “good people who do more by getting up each morning” violated law and instead of providing a tutor for extended periods of illness, they processed her as dropout…each and every time she was sick for an extended period. She would return from a period of illness and they’d make her re register, start all new classes and toss her in the middle. Never given time to figure out what she missed, they’d just hand her the test…which she was sure to fail. She not only felt stupid, she was sure she was stupid. Once, she asked for math notes from days she missed and her math teacher made her dig through the trash to scrounge for ones that might have been thrown away by another student.

            So, as far as your remark about folks who “do more by getting up”. What kind of professional, educated, adults behave this way? Who does this to a young girl with a chronic illness? What happened to my daughter will and should never again happen to any chronically ill student ever. Not because the good people got up but because I stood up, because I went to bat. .

            She’s now 23, beautiful, smart and she just landed her first 30k a year job, with fab benefits, bonus and commissions. She took the executive job over a more glamorous contract offer with MTV’s The Real World…because she wanted to grow up to be someone she could respect. We ate Applebee’s in St. Cloud last month while rejecting calls from the producers at MTV. She’s amazing. The good people are asshats.

            Save your violins, Jeff, my girl plays that instrument too.

          • robin hensel

            Jody….thanks for clarification and letting jeff know why his comments about the “good people that live here” are absurd AND non-factual. This is important. Your writing skills are impeccable!!!! This area NEEDS you and your family! Please consider running for office…..Ron Kresha needs a SERIOUS contender. Might that be you? With hope and gratitude…..robin. Who knows….Jeff might become our friend one day, even with his differing opinion. I am open to that. Maybe even some of the other participants on this comment thread will join us for “common table dialogue at city hall” where we can debate/dialogue contention points and good ideas for going forward.

        • Jody Scott Olson

          Some great late night reading are depositions of Little Falls City Counsel in the Hensel case…when a number of council members admit that they knew Brian Crowder was cleared of wrong doing in a family altercation but try to force him off the counsel because he was an “embarrassment” Otremba admitted that he knew Crowder was cleared of wrong doing but in the same breath also indicates that he knew and was purposely damaging Crowder’s reputation and chances for re election…saying something to the effect of, maybe they’ll (voters) will be forgiving and maybe they won’t, referring to the fallout of a counsel lead smear campaign.

          Crowder was placed on city council by this community, Yet we have other elected officials who demonstrate no respect for the will of the people they claim to be serving or the integrity of the electoral process.

          I hope Crowder sues the city and each and every individual council member (the good people) who participated down to the elastic in their nickers.

          I really wish Tom West would shut off the “Merica” nostalgia valve and find a news story..

          • Jeff

            Oh Jody, Quit trying to stir the small town drama pot! If I recall correctly? The majority of the community wanted Crowder to vamoose his position because of that altercation with his elderly female relative. Said council member was cleared on formalities. Snap!

          • Jody Scott Olson

            Stirring small town drama…you mean by being literate and taking the time to read what the council said under oath, the stuff the local paper doesn’t bother reporting? Here’s the thing Jeff, the removal of the councilmen wasn’t initiated by concerned community members it launched by the council president, possibly violating meeting laws in doing so. If my memory serves me, he said he knew Crowder was cleared, he said he never even asked Crowder about the incident and that his knowledge of the incident came from what is wife heard. I think by legal definition you’d call that heresy but who wants to mess legalities.

            For the city of Little Falls this illustrates competent leadership… Light the torches and grab the pitchforks the council president’s wife had a hell of a tale to tell over dinner?

            Now, despite the inconvenience to all you folks who think your all encompassing opinion means “everyone”, when you really mean a handful of local opinion leaders, there’s a reason we have a legal system and state and federal laws that govern. In this case the council pres didn’t even gather info over a backyard fence, in this case his wife did and then she told him about it and he acted based on that.

            I don’t give a rip if local culture does allow this type of gossip-mongering- decision making. Its irresponsible from any way you look at it. Its bad leadership and it opens the city to litigation. Actions taken by community members have to be legal and yes this does include “the ruling class” elected officials. Even if your neighbor next door DOES say something she heard from someone else that she thought was incriminating..

            And since when is “stirring the pot” defined as everyday people standing up for their LEGAL rights?

          • Jeff

            Jody, Jody, Jody…..Settle down! Your going to give yourself high blood pressure over a situation that happened eon’s ago (and quite frankly has no bearing on the discussion at hand, silly you! Always trying to rekindle old drama)……… Maybe you should think about some counceling, or anger management. I am kind of concerned about you and your well being! Hensels too!!

          • robin hensel

            Jeff….it is not jody and my blood pressure that is rising…..council past and present will be quivering in their boots before long….wishing like heck they could retract their words during depositions. Too bad…too late…cat’$ out of the bag now. Get ready for more action. This info will make election VERY interesting for sure. I am glad there are savvy people willing to stand up to the power grab group in Morrison County. Bout time!!

          • robin hensel

            ahhhhhh Jeff….it matters not when this all happened with Brian….important part is it DID HAPPEN…… it has a lot to do with the conversation in this quaint little river town, with the growing big problem$$$. I am going to guess that I have captured at least a million dollar$$$$ worth of truth in those depositions that the League of Minnesota Cities attorneys fought so hard to keep the public from knowing. It is just a matter of which law firm will be representing who and when. The public has a right to know just who has messed up big time and who will co$t this city into the future. Stay tuned….more to come….promise. Wait til this all hits the news media that really matters.

          • Jeff

            How would declare your job title? Free Loader? or Freeloader?

          • robin hensel

            Jeff….i have never been a freeloader. Everyone that knows anything about me knows i am forthright and have always been a hard worker. FACT. Go bully someone else and try real hard to get your facts straight. Justice WILL prevail. FACT.

          • Jeff

            Fact! Your inflated ego, and self worth is annoying!! Fact! You need to curb your anger issues if you want to be an effective rabble rouser!! … Seriously! Grow up and quit fighting these insignificant battles!! You’re acting like a spoiled brat because the town won’t give you a free ride!!
            Little Falls -1 , Hensel – 0 YOU LOSE!!
            Fact! You Lost Your Day In Court!!
            (John Lennons- Imagine- is playing in my head right now:)
            Peace Hensel!

          • robin hensel

            Jeff….there you go again…distorting truth…..city did not win……city has a temporary win on half of lawsuit….rest remains answered…..the content of my speech has always been the issue and it continues to be or you simply wouldnt be “policing” my speech. I did not lose in court. FACT. Soon Little Falls will know more. Too bad you and your buddies josh and tmac don’t possess the courage of an ant. Are you not proud of your speech? All three of u are simply hiding behind partial or false names. Easy to accuse others(falsely) of bullying ….while too chicken to identify yourself. Baak baak baak. Can you imagine Thomas Paine calling himself a fake name to hide his true identity??? At least almost all other participants have been brave enough to identify themselves…. including other local residents. I will repeat that you and most other people in this area don’t know me at all. Only what they read in the local paper or hear on the local radio. If a person is satisfied with the only right wing slant… then keep on tuning in for a mouthful of teabag slurry. Intelligent people seek knowledge everywhere and can identify truth after researching much beyond this quaint little river town with the great big problems. All good change anywhere…ever…came because somebody rocked the boat and challenged the system. Hold tight small falls…the big story is about to break!

          • Jeff

            Not only have you lost your battle with this fine town, you have lost your battle with me as well……He who angers first loses:) I still say you need deep anger management counseling before you hurt someone. Peace Hensel!

          • robin hensel

            What….no more policing of my comments? You tire so easily.

          • Jeff

            I have ended this conversation for this week, hopefully there is another subject in next weeks paper that I can verbally and mentally thrash you on!! Peace Hensel!

          • robin hensel

            Jeff….definition of thrash: hit,beat,strike,thump,batter,hammer,pound, rain blows on,flail or punish. Kind of defines the word bully: use of force,threat,or coercion to abuse,intimidate, or aggressively impose domination over others. The content of your speech is telling. Hold on Mr. Jeff….the next edition of McRecord will hold great promise…..sure to please. Best buy yourself some chamomile tea so you can sleep over the weekend. You will need all your “L’esprit de l’escalier.” Assalaam-O-Alaikum……until later…..

          • Jeff

            Come on Hensel! To verbally thrash, or out wit, mentally thrash through conversation, has a way different meaning than to physically thrash someone!
            You know this to be true!

          • robin hensel

            By the way….there is only a lawsuit with the city…and dialogue on a comment forum…..not a battle ….. that sounds angry Jeff. You…josh and tmac are the ones arguing futile points. Just sayin…..oh and God bless the U.S.A.

          • tmac

            Why do you continue to name me in your posts? I am arguing nothing.

            I asked one simple question on this article and defended ants.
            Yet more than once my name shows up in your posts.
            As far as Josh and Jeff being my buddies-seeing that I do not even know who they are(or do I care who they are)-chances are slim that we are buddies.

          • tmac

            “or do I care who they are” would be better stated as I do not need to know who they are.

          • robin hensel

            Why would u care how many times your fake I.D. on here is mentioned???¿¿¿

          • central mn

            tmac….It’s because you have questioned QUEEN HENSEL in the past, you are forever on her law$uit li$t!!

          • robin hensel

            Yes…that would be my free speech lawsuit….the one about my free speech 1st amendment constitutional rights that were violated. You know the Constitution of the U.S.A…..that all of you teabaggers spew out of your mouths as sooo important and soldiers fight for.

          • central mn

            “…..that all of you teabaggers spew out of your mouths as sooo important and soldiers fight for. ” This is the typical response, get mad and call people names. It IS the soldiers that fight for us to keep that right, the very same soldiers that YOU insulted by wanting the WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS banner removed with your FRIVOLOUS lawsuit!!

          • robin hensel

            Who is mad..??…teabagger is an appropriate name for a teapartier. The “We Support Our Troops Banner” was ILLEGALLY ERECTED and was up for more than a decade in violation. FACT. So do you think it is ok that the city staff…attorney. and elected officials and the American Legion all knowingly violated the law? Surely you jest. There are still NUMEROUS sign violations all over downtown and outlying business districts. This is disturbing. These are the very people we entrust to make correct, fact based and fair laws and enforce them. Problem is we have a “lawless council” and city senior staff(2 former co-city administrators that never should have held that position. It was past council pres. Urban Otremba and Mayor Cathy VanRisseghems idea to hire a part time administrator over the objection of Alderman Brian Crowder. Our soldiers…legislators and law enforcement…judges and more are SWORN to protect the Constitution. Anyone not agreeing that our Constitution be upheld needs to evaluate if they want THEIR RIGHTS unprotected. You included. To suggest my lawsuit is frivolous is absurd. Lawsuits are necessary when anyone’s rights have been violated.

          • robin hensel

            This city NEEDS a full time administrator to properly handle city business. It would benefit the city to have a more skilled attorney also. Council and Mayor positions may have turnover this year. That would be a plus. There will be news coverage that will expose much that has been ferreted out. Your small town of Swanville has many problems as well. Better work on them. Just a suggestion. Until later…..

          • robin hensel

            The biggest problems for this quaint little river town have not even begun yet. Fact. If residents wish to minimize further damage they should boot all the clowns out of office in November that don’t honor the Constitution….know city laws and state required meeting laws and show contempt for opposing views. That would encompass LeeAnn Doucette ward 1….Jeremy Hanfler ward 3…Don Klinker ward 2…and of course our mayor Cathy VanRisseghem. Alderman Brian Crowder is the only one of the elected officials that fairly represents all residents …regardless of their economic status. Wake up community. Keep on electing clowns and you will continue the circus at city hall.

          • central mn

            Robin maybe Brian is the only one that shares your point of view, quit being such a bully and slinging mud just because people see things in a different light.

          • robin hensel

            I am not a bully and not slinging mud… let the election dialogue continue to blossom during this very interesting year. Awhile back Herb Davis wrote back to you in response to your calling me a bully. The moderator did not allow his comment…she wanted only your slant it seems. Now that she is being fair by posting “all comments” here it is(with his permission) “Who is the bully? Seems like Jeff is confused. His manner of addressing his problems with Ms. Hensel might indicate a serious problem with women, at least women who stand up for our rights and disagrees with Jeff’s opinions. The desire to tell folks to agree with me or leave town doesn’t seem to be the American way……reminds me of the love it or leave it I heard when protesters objected to the invasion of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. I will be “policing” , a strange choice of words.” I sure hope this post is allowed now. Otherwise this comment thread is not accurate or balanced and ECM publishers would not likely want that reputation.

          • Jeff

            My you are proud of what Herb wrote? Or did he? This is the third time you have rewritten it for him (supposedly) to post it against me? This could be an interesting conversation if you were…..Lets say……Putting words in Herbs post? Hmmmm? Especially when they are the furthest thing from the truth! I stand by my claim that you are a bully….Plain and simple, you hang peoples pictures in your yard to belittle, shame, and degrade… If thats not a bully? I am not sure what is?

          • robin hensel

            Jeff…those are the exact words that herb davis posted and the moderator refused to post. FACT. He emailed it to me and i postedvit on twitter and facebook ….as i do alot of info. It troubles me that you are the kind of person who likes to suggest i may not be forthright. Herb summed you up very aptly. As for my interesting yard art….its my choice to portray the clowns at city hall so others will start paying attention to their lawless council. I want them all thrown out. I can’t be clearer than that.

          • Jeff

            Laughing out loud!:) No Robin, you cannot be any clearer than that!!
            Touche Hensel! Touche!! You are a worthy opponent that never tires of a good argument/dialogue!!

          • robin hensel

            Central mn…..just as you, jeff, tmac and josh agree about alot of teabagger issues and your great disdain for me(even though not one of you knows me at all) Brian and I do not think alike on everything….both of us do agree strongly that everyones rights must be protected. There isn’t one other elected person or city hall senior staff that upholds those rights. If that weren’t true….there would be no lawsuit. Whoever the city attorney was and whoever the council were in 1974 were in great part responsible for enacting a sign ordinance that was unconstitutional. And if that wasn’t true…the city would not have needed to rewrite a whole new sign ordinance and rezone downtown to B2 Instead of historic preservation status so the We support our troops banner could be re-erected after taking down. Too bad the four of you don’t believe i have a right to sue when my rights were violated. And if you believe I have that right….please state that. It sure seems to me you think my lawsuit was frivolous….it is not. Far from it. If this could happen to me…it can happen to anyone.

  • tmac

    PROVERBS 6:6
    “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise”
    Nothing wrong with ants.

    • Jeff

      Awesome tmac!

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