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Exercise of Power: American Failures, Successes, and a New Path Forward in the Post-Cold War World

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From the former secretary of defense and author of the acclaimed #1 best-selling memoir, Duty, a candid, sweeping examination of power in all its manifestations, and how it has been exercised, for good and bad, by American presidents in the post-Cold War world. Since the end of the Cold War, the global perception of the United States has progressively morphed from dominant From the former secretary of defense and author of the acclaimed #1 best-selling memoir, Duty, a candid, sweeping examination of power in all its manifestations, and how it has been exercised, for good and bad, by American presidents in the post-Cold War world. Since the end of the Cold War, the global perception of the United States has progressively morphed from dominant international leader to disorganized entity, seemingly unwilling to accept the mantle of leadership or unable to govern itself effectively. Robert Gates argues that this transformation is the result of the failure of political leaders to understand the complexity of American power, its expansiveness, and its limitations. He makes clear that the successful exercise of power is not limited to the use of military might or the ability to coerce or demand submission, but must encompass as well diplomacy, economics, strategic communications, development assistance, intelligence, technology, ideology, and cyber. By analyzing specific challenges faced by the American government in the post-Cold War period--Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Russia, China and others--Gates deconstructs the ways in which leaders have used the instruments of power available to them. With forthright judgments of the performance of past presidents and their senior-most advisors, first-hand knowledge, and insider stories, Gates argues that U.S. national security in the future will require learning, and abiding by, the lessons of the past, and re-creating those capabilities that the misuse of power has cost the nation.


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From the former secretary of defense and author of the acclaimed #1 best-selling memoir, Duty, a candid, sweeping examination of power in all its manifestations, and how it has been exercised, for good and bad, by American presidents in the post-Cold War world. Since the end of the Cold War, the global perception of the United States has progressively morphed from dominant From the former secretary of defense and author of the acclaimed #1 best-selling memoir, Duty, a candid, sweeping examination of power in all its manifestations, and how it has been exercised, for good and bad, by American presidents in the post-Cold War world. Since the end of the Cold War, the global perception of the United States has progressively morphed from dominant international leader to disorganized entity, seemingly unwilling to accept the mantle of leadership or unable to govern itself effectively. Robert Gates argues that this transformation is the result of the failure of political leaders to understand the complexity of American power, its expansiveness, and its limitations. He makes clear that the successful exercise of power is not limited to the use of military might or the ability to coerce or demand submission, but must encompass as well diplomacy, economics, strategic communications, development assistance, intelligence, technology, ideology, and cyber. By analyzing specific challenges faced by the American government in the post-Cold War period--Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Russia, China and others--Gates deconstructs the ways in which leaders have used the instruments of power available to them. With forthright judgments of the performance of past presidents and their senior-most advisors, first-hand knowledge, and insider stories, Gates argues that U.S. national security in the future will require learning, and abiding by, the lessons of the past, and re-creating those capabilities that the misuse of power has cost the nation.

30 review for Exercise of Power: American Failures, Successes, and a New Path Forward in the Post-Cold War World

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sid Sidner

    Let the men of wisdom speak A major theme of this book is that since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has not used the non-military forms of power well. This book is long on fact and short on opinion. You will learn the facts of the last 30 year of foreign policy, but organized chronologically by hotspot. Read and learn. I'm sure every major foreign policy player in the country will read this. I pray that Joe Biden's foreign policy team will debate it at length. Let the men of wisdom speak A major theme of this book is that since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has not used the non-military forms of power well. This book is long on fact and short on opinion. You will learn the facts of the last 30 year of foreign policy, but organized chronologically by hotspot. Read and learn. I'm sure every major foreign policy player in the country will read this. I pray that Joe Biden's foreign policy team will debate it at length.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Reading the book I almost feel like being the POTUS, with Gates advising me what to do with all the hot spots with American interests. Key point is America has been too quick to use its military might but not the non-military means: social, economic and diplomatic methods. Meanwhile, China has always followed Sun Tze’s Art of War advice: the best win is to win a war without fighting one. 1. More propaganda of what America has done for the world. Learn from China. For example, how Bush refused to Reading the book I almost feel like being the POTUS, with Gates advising me what to do with all the hot spots with American interests. Key point is America has been too quick to use its military might but not the non-military means: social, economic and diplomatic methods. Meanwhile, China has always followed Sun Tze’s Art of War advice: the best win is to win a war without fighting one. 1. More propaganda of what America has done for the world. Learn from China. For example, how Bush refused to cut food aid to North Korea because he didn’t want its citizens to suffer alongside its repressive regime. 2. A master agency to coordinate the non military means is needed; funding needs to be increased while not cutting defence budget. (Tough when the deficit is already so high) 3. Make military objective clear and avoid overreach, and give enough resources for the Armed forces to do the job. Limit military force to situations where direct American interest is harmed. Not every single dictator needs or should be disposed. The American public no longer has the stomach for being the World Police, after the quagmires of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. 4. International action has taught countries including Korea and Iran that without nuclear power they can be destroyed like Iraq, Libya, or invaded like Ukraine. 5. Do not threaten unless you are ready to follow through, referring to Obama’s Red Line. 6. Get involved in international institutions such as WTO, NATO, Paris agreement, WHO, UN. Consider rejoining the TPP, or even the AIIB. 7. Leave North Korea alone now that it has nuclear weapons. The regime has probably correctly realized that it is only safe with the possession. 8. Protect EU/NATO allies, but force them to pay more for their own defence. 9. China is the biggest threat. Use non military means because it is super strong. 10. Invest in Africa again; China is already its number one trading partner. 11. America will realistically need to work with dictators but it does not need to love them. It should continue to spread diplomacy. 12. America cannot always ensure good outcome despite the best strategy because local institutions may be weak, infrastructures poor or cultural differences too great. A great book! However after reading this, one realizes that in order for the international community not to crush your despotic authoritarian regime, you need to develop nuclear weapons even if it means starving your people... otherwise you will become the next Saddam Hussein/Gaddafi...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Matt Davis

    A sobering and even-handed look at the successes and failures of American administrations after the cold war. This book helped me exit my echo chamber a bit. Gates has a clear view of the need for American power in forms far beyond military. At our best, we could be united behind our ideals. Gates unabashedly says we need to be sure people know the good we are doing and give us credit for it. Little about the book acknowledges legitimate gripes others might have with American power, but it does A sobering and even-handed look at the successes and failures of American administrations after the cold war. This book helped me exit my echo chamber a bit. Gates has a clear view of the need for American power in forms far beyond military. At our best, we could be united behind our ideals. Gates unabashedly says we need to be sure people know the good we are doing and give us credit for it. Little about the book acknowledges legitimate gripes others might have with American power, but it does highlight the importance of US promotion of democratic ideals. Otherwise, we run the risk of being only one of a handful of options for smaller countries to choose from as oppressive overlord. The book is enlightening, though a bit dense. It slowed my reading progress, but I'm glad to have read it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    W. Whalin

    An Inside Look at Power Robert M. Gates has been inside the political halls of power in Washington, D.C. for decades in various roles in the Central Intelligence Agency and as the Secretary of Defense. He has served with multiple Presidents—both Republican and Democrat. His perspective in EXERCISE OF POWER is well-told and interesting. I listened to this audiobook cover to cover and enjoyed the insights. Sometime America has used their power successfully to influence world events. Other times we An Inside Look at Power Robert M. Gates has been inside the political halls of power in Washington, D.C. for decades in various roles in the Central Intelligence Agency and as the Secretary of Defense. He has served with multiple Presidents—both Republican and Democrat. His perspective in EXERCISE OF POWER is well-told and interesting. I listened to this audiobook cover to cover and enjoyed the insights. Sometime America has used their power successfully to influence world events. Other times we have missed opportunities. Gates tells both sides of this situation and brings his personal history into the text as well as careful research. I recommend listening to EXERCISE OF POWER. W. Terry Whalin is an editor and the author of more than 60 books including his latest 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed .

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    Any book by Bob Gates will be a masterclass of erudition and leadership and this latest offering is no exception. Given his experience as Secretary of Defense for two Presidents, director of the CIA, Air Force career, and place on the National Security Council; he speaks with the kind of objectivity and purpose that comes from seeing 8 administrations come and go and maintaining an analyst's perspective on the relation between their ideology and their (in)effectiveness. He frames the discussion Any book by Bob Gates will be a masterclass of erudition and leadership and this latest offering is no exception. Given his experience as Secretary of Defense for two Presidents, director of the CIA, Air Force career, and place on the National Security Council; he speaks with the kind of objectivity and purpose that comes from seeing 8 administrations come and go and maintaining an analyst's perspective on the relation between their ideology and their (in)effectiveness. He frames the discussion here, on the exercise of the US's global power, through the image of the instruments of a symphony with the administration and President most specifically acting as its conductor. These instruments include, of course, the military, however he also makes great discussion around the non-military instruments such as economic leverage, cyber capability, development assistance, strategic communications, intelligence gathering, alliances/diplomacy, science and technology, culture/ideology/religion, the private sector, nationalism, and wise leadership skills. Having established this lense, Gates then takes you through the steps that US administrations have taken essentially since the demise of the Soviet Union - Trump and how each has, mostly ineffectively, wielded the conductor's baton. Perhaps the standout section for me is on the lack of effective strategic communications on the positive work administrations have taken and the successes we have had with aid programs and development assistance. This section is filled with agencies, initiatives, and programs that I had never heard of, mainly due to a lack of effective communication and discussion of this work in the public sphere, thus, allowing to persist the notion that we just give away aid and get nothing to return among nationalist-isolationist types. There is no denying that his vision of US influence is one that many on the outer edges of both sides of the US political spectrum would find to be "old-school, neo-con, hawkish, etc..." however he makes a compelling case, given the ascent of China and Russia, for the effective use of our available symphony of power. As he concludes: "The critical question, though, is whether, even with all the right military and nonmilitary tools, presidents, Congress, and the American people will recognize that our long-term self-interest demands that we continue to accept the burden of global leadership."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Herrmann

    A very persuasive and urgent argument that the U.S. must reinvest in and redeploy non-military instruments of power—as we did quite effectively during the Cold War—if we are to compete with and constrain Russia, Iran, and, especially, China in the 21st century. Gates is a lucid thinker and clear writer who possesses a strong point of view on how we should respond to foreign policy challenges as informed by 40 years of experience in the White House situation room working under 8 different Preside A very persuasive and urgent argument that the U.S. must reinvest in and redeploy non-military instruments of power—as we did quite effectively during the Cold War—if we are to compete with and constrain Russia, Iran, and, especially, China in the 21st century. Gates is a lucid thinker and clear writer who possesses a strong point of view on how we should respond to foreign policy challenges as informed by 40 years of experience in the White House situation room working under 8 different Presidents. I really enjoyed his forthright and pithy overviews of the U.S.’s involvement in a dozen different foreign policy hot spots around the world, including Russia, North Korea, Africa, Iraq, Syria, and more. He effectively argues that, since the end of the Cold War, U.S. presidents have too readily turned to the military and to economic sanctions versus employing a full “symphony” of instruments, including diplomacy, aid, strategic communications, culture, cyber tools, and more. It made my blood boil to read how we have allowed so many of these tools to atrophy in recent years due to lack of appreciation, lack of funding, and—especially—lack of a strategy. He tries to maintain objectivity and even-handedness in his judgement of our recent Presidents’ successes and failures in this arena, though it’s clear he rates both Bush 41 and 43 highly; he seemed less impressed with Clinton and Obama. He wraps up with a very good summary of lessons to be learned and possible steps forward in order to improve results. I was most struck by his conviction that the whole national security apparatus needs restructuring and reform, as does the State Department, USAID, and a host of other agencies. It will be difficult to accomplish this however at a time when Congress can’t seem to agree on anything and so I am pessimistic we will see this happen on Biden’s watch. Meanwhile, China continues to invest aggressively in all the different instruments of power at home and abroad, accruing global influence and power at a rate that we will find increasing difficult to keep pace with. I found this a riveting and provocative read and I learned a lot about the history of our involvement with different countries. I also left with a lot of sympathy for our post-Cold War presidents who, all too often, were forced to choose the “least bad option” in so many different foreign policy situations. Gates is telling us not only that we will have more and better options if we work to rebuild our non-military instruments of power, but that we can likely avoid getting painted into corners in the first place. I hope someone bought this book for Biden, Jake Sullivan, Antony Blinken, and Lloyd Austin for Christmas and that they read it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Gates Advises About US Foreign Policy Robert Gates, former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense, talks about Foreign Policy from President Carter to President Obama and a little President Trump. He breaks down important incidents in foreign policy by country. How presidents deal with them and some suggestions how what could have been better or what went right. He covers Russia, China, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and others. I found it really insightful especially about Libya. Important read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Craig Fiebig

    Robert Gates renders useless the notion of “lifelong government employee” as a pejorative. He is incisive, dedicated and brutally honest about himself, his Presidents and the Teams surrounding them. Anyone with even a modest interest in recent history or foreign affairs will both enjoy and benefit from reading this (or his other) books. Reading this and Gen. McMaster’s “Battlegrounds”, with his notion of ‘strategic narcissism’, offers a richly paired deep dive.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    3.5 stars.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    Wow. This was a great book to listen to. Current media is so devoid of information. We hear the same sound bites over and over again. I appreciated this behind the door look into recent American history. More information really helps to paint the picture and give a better background for the decisions that were made. If only we could learn from history and not repeat these mistakes.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Jared

    Recent history meets philosophy and foreign policy as Gates argues for an aggressive approach to non-military intervention abroad while at the same time acknowledging the very real limits of power, especially in regards to military force.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Peter A

    This book starts with the basic questions about American power: “To what end do we use it? What are our purposes and goals in the world beyond protecting our won interests, in particular when it comes to advancing freedom and democracy?” (p4) The author starts by presenting several instruments of power and addressing how Presidents can use those instruments. The author then gives ten case studies in the post-cold war period (when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991). The author finishes with less This book starts with the basic questions about American power: “To what end do we use it? What are our purposes and goals in the world beyond protecting our won interests, in particular when it comes to advancing freedom and democracy?” (p4) The author starts by presenting several instruments of power and addressing how Presidents can use those instruments. The author then gives ten case studies in the post-cold war period (when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991). The author finishes with lessons learned, which is an extremely strong section, highlighting the new times we are in (no longer the cold war), the new challenges we face (e.g., having a long-term strategy for addressing a more assertive China, dealing with an intransigent North Korea, addressing the disruption caused by Russia’s destabilizing activities; as well as climate change and its implications), and some practical changes that we as a nation need to make, in particular to using all non-military levers of power in an integrated way, assuming we believe our best interests are best protected by measured and sustained global engagement and leadership. I also got a glimpse of the author’s vast knowledge and practical experience from years of serving the United States. It is reassuring that such people existed … and can only hope that they can be recruited to future administrations to serve the United States. I had first heard of the book during a interview on the PBS News Hour between the host (Judy Woodruff) and the author, Robert Gates. I was impressed by his assertion, central to the book, that the US has many instruments of power, and used many effectively during the cold-war period, but recently has relied on fewer and fewer of these, to the detriment of the US (and perhaps the world’s) well-being. This statement resonated with me, prompting me to read the book. The author identifies several instruments of power: • Military • Diplomacy • Economic Leverage • Cyber Capabilities • Development Assistance • Communications • Intelligence • Alliances • Science and Technology • Culture • Ideology • The Private Sector • Religion • Nationalism These need to be harnessed by wise and courageous leadership. Gates next described how a President exercises power, and describes the National Security Councils composition (“president, vice president, secretaries of state and defense, with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (senior military adviser) and the director of national intelligence (as of 2005) as principle intelligence adviser”) (p 59), and its workings (and what prevents with from working). A key theme in this chapter is that the current structure, set up in 1947, post-World War II, to handle the Cold War, has not kept up in the post-Cold War era, and needs to be rethought. He outlines the types of problems now facing, including • Military missions (that often becomes non-military) • Non-military missions • Covert operations • Nation-building • Offensive use of cyber capabilities for political purposes • Strategic communications • Humanitarian and development assistance • Intervention in internal conflicts in other countries The last five areas are called out by the author as where the “US Government simply is not organized to exercise power effectively” (p74). The examples cover events in Iran; Somilia, Haiti and the Yugoslav Wars; Colombia; Afghanistan; Iraq; Africa; Russia; Georgia, Libya, Syria and Ukraine; North Korea; and China. In these examples, the author provides a brief summary of the challenges of the example, a history and context for decisions made, and for roads not taken. He related back to the various instruments of power, used and not used. These examples are informative. However, the style of writing is such that is feels a bit like Monday quarterbacking (i.e., coaching after the event is over). I found this distracting and it detracted (me) from the lessons that could have been provided. The chapter on Russia is quite interesting. One point noted is that Putin believed that H. Clinton’s statement about having a government accountable to people as interference in Russia’s election (pp 278 – 279), and later had not inhibitions about undermining her campaign. Also, the author states (p278) that Putin was convinced the US had a role in fomenting large anti-Putin demonstration in Moscow and elsewhere surrounding the parliamentary election in December 2011 and his own election … citing Clinton’s public comments in support of the demonstrators. Interestingly, the author does not confirm or deny this allegation … unless other places where he does admit mistakes or states his views, often counter to those of the President he is serving. One theme that comes up is that the United States does not use Strategic Communication (in some cases, just saying how much we are contributing to food or disaster relieve), “whether because of moral qualms or skepticism or lack of imagination” (p 333). I also note there is no mention of the challenge with Israel. The chapter on North Korea is very good – since it lays bare the challenges of dealing with N Korea for any president. The chapter on China is excellent. We will have to come to a long-term strategy for addressing China’s rise. His final chapter, Lessons Learned, is very strong, and very pragmatic, with concrete suggestions. We are in a new world, different from the post WWII, when many of the institutions we currently have were set up. The challenges we in the US face today, both with nationals such as China, Russia, N. Korea and Iran, as well as with challenges of climate change and migration, are different from those faced 75 years ago, and we as a nation should act differently. In reading this book, I come away with a different impression for Bush 43. This does not change my opinion that the beginning of endless was his administration unfortunate legacy to the US, but it does shine a light on this thinking (unrealistic – aspirations did not match resources – both in amounts and types – too much responsibility for the military which is not trained for nation-building) and his positive contribution to Africa – which is almost never talked about. Gates is certainly has led an interesting (sometimes controversial) life https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_.... I know very little about his biography until I looked, towards the end of reading the book. It was clear from the writing that he knew quite a bit of history – and not surprisingly it was his major, formal education culminating with a Ph.D. Whatever the truth of the controversy, it was insightful to learn that we had intelligence and individuals with in depth knowledge in positions of responsibility. FB Comment: This is an insightful book by a historian and an experienced practitioner of the levers of power in the United States Government. The author explains several levers of power (most non-military), provides 10 case studies, starting with history, then in many cases first-hand experience of the levers of power used and not used. His bottom line is that the US needs to re-imagine how to use, in an integrated manner, the non-military levers of power to advance its goals, and the governmental structural changes that need to be made to realize the power of those levers. [It is assumed that there is a strong military as a means of last resort and assurance.] Well worth reading for this history, insights and practical changes suggested! Finally, I wish to quote a section about higher education and the science and technology level (p 406). “As noted earlier, higher education and the science and technology sector are both important instruments of power. We will shoot ourselves in the foot if we allow our partisan debates over immigration to curtail the flow of foreign students coming to U.S. universities and seeing firsthand what freedom looks like. Similarly, the government’s failure to adequately fund basic research will have dire consequences down the road. As secretary, I increased Defense funding in this area, but those increase have long since disappear.”

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tim Bane

    This is the first book I read by Robert Gates and it is an eye-opening read. Gates’ main argument is that in the post-Cold War the American government has become too reliant on military force and economic sanctions to defend and extend our interests internationally. With the complexity of today’s world, the symphony of the instruments of power that we have must not be limited by our ability to coerce obedience or submission by force. Instead, he argues, we must be creative in incorporating a uni This is the first book I read by Robert Gates and it is an eye-opening read. Gates’ main argument is that in the post-Cold War the American government has become too reliant on military force and economic sanctions to defend and extend our interests internationally. With the complexity of today’s world, the symphony of the instruments of power that we have must not be limited by our ability to coerce obedience or submission by force. Instead, he argues, we must be creative in incorporating a unified effort with all the instruments of power through diplomacy, economics, strategic communications, developmental assistance, intelligence, technology, ideology, alliances, private industry, religion, culture and good old wise and courageous leadership. Using this list and a long set of hard facts, Gates’ deconstructs and candidly judges America’s foreign policy handlings across the last three decades by focusing on the post-Cold War presidential administrations. Aside from the case studies and the history lessons, perhaps the most useful takeaway in this book comes from a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt about the importance of presidents in “persuading, leading, sacrificing, and always teaching, because the greatest duty of a statesman is to educate.” Gates writes that “this is especially important in the deep political polarization in America, where there is rare and broad bipartisan agreement that the United States should reduce its commitments and obligations abroad and focus on problems here at home. The farther right and farther left you go on the political spectrum, the more agreement you find on this point.” He goes on to say that the reality is, historically, most Americans have not been particularly interested in U.S. engagement in the rest of the world. Most Americans have long wanted to just mind our own business and be left alone. Today's challenge is that this is not possible because our economy, security, and personal health are “inextricably bound up with the developments beyond our borders.” In the end, Gates’ book serves a required primer for current and future American leadership in thinking about our foreign policy objectives. He writes that their job is to develop a foreign policy that he or she can persuade the public to support and then, “patiently, repeatedly, educate the citizenry as why that policy is necessary and deserving of support.” Well worth the read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erik Champenois

    Most of the international relations books I read are academic so it was good to read a book written by someone actually directly engaged with U.S. foreign policy. And Robert Gates is one of those few people who have worked in multiple presidential administrations over several decades, including as CIA director and as secretary of defense under George W. Bush and Obama. Gates' book is focused on the exercise of a symphony of power for an effective foreign policy - involving not just military power Most of the international relations books I read are academic so it was good to read a book written by someone actually directly engaged with U.S. foreign policy. And Robert Gates is one of those few people who have worked in multiple presidential administrations over several decades, including as CIA director and as secretary of defense under George W. Bush and Obama. Gates' book is focused on the exercise of a symphony of power for an effective foreign policy - involving not just military power, but also economic power, diplomacy, cyber, development assistance, communications, alliances, sciences and technology, the private sector, and culture and ideology. Gates then proceeds to present chapter-by-chapter reviews of U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis different countries, or groupings of countries, focused on the post-cold War presidents Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama, and Trump. Whether or not you agree with all of his opinions and conclusions, this is an important book in reviewing U.S. foreign policy successes and failures in the post-Cold War world. I found myself recalibrating my opinions and thinking on more than one matter as I read this book. I also appreciated the inside institutional scope in terms of better understanding how U.S. foreign policy actually works - or doesn't work - in institutional and organizational terms. Gates makes a strong case for the U.S. needing to emphasize much more strongly non-military levers of power in its foreign policy. Too often the emphasis is on military means rather than the various other means available to us in exercising our power. Gates also makes a strong case for being more strategic and deliberate in when and where we exercise our military power - not relying on the military for nation-building efforts, avoiding mission creep, and ensuring that we are committed to completing our strategic objectives when we send in our military rather than sending in the troops and then not giving them the required resources or letting politics end the mission too early. I'm also more convinced, based on Gates' analysis and the historical examples presented, that military-humanitarian interventions (which I'm otherwise prone to potentially favor) are likely better dealt with through regional and international institutions rather than the U.S. military alone.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chad Manske

    Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan and Bush 41 were supremely adept at wielding the instruments of power during critical Cold War years, according to former CIA Director and SecDef Robert Gates in this new sweeping historical volume. The post-Cold War era has brought myriad foreign policy challenges of its own and there is almost none more qualified to bring a straightforward moderate look at these and how US presidents and administrations have handled them than Gates, with his ~40+ years of governme Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan and Bush 41 were supremely adept at wielding the instruments of power during critical Cold War years, according to former CIA Director and SecDef Robert Gates in this new sweeping historical volume. The post-Cold War era has brought myriad foreign policy challenges of its own and there is almost none more qualified to bring a straightforward moderate look at these and how US presidents and administrations have handled them than Gates, with his ~40+ years of government experience spanning multiple Administrations—both Democrat and Republican. “This book assesses their post–Cold War successors’ decisions in fifteen critical places, the effectiveness of their use of the instruments of American power, and the lessons we must learn for the future.” “I believe that each of the fifteen significant post–Cold War challenges I will examine in the pages to follow must be addressed in its own narrative as it has evolved over time. This will provide the continuity—the story line—essential to understanding the response by successive presidents, and why those challenges remain before us in every instance. Accordingly, I address the challenges separately and roughly chronologically, dating from when each first confronted post–Cold War American leaders. I will also deal with the reality that all the presidents had to confront many of these problems simultaneously and that, routinely, each problem impacted and influenced U.S. decisions on other problems—a sort of three-dimensional chess.” “...a critical component of this book is my effort to explain how and why presidents made the decisions they did, who most influenced them, and the style unique to each.” In these pages we take away that thorny international affairs problems never really go away and that adept, proportional and appropriate use of ALL instruments of power—not just the DIME (read first chapter on what they all are as I don’t want to spoil it here)—are required to thoughtfully and deliberately respond and protect American interests. A fantastic read!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sid Groeneman

    After serving in the military, Robert Gates began his career in the 1960s as a CIA analyst, eventually rising to become head of the agency. He later served as Secretary of Defense in both Democratic and Republican administrations and also spent nearly nine years in the National Security Council under four presidents. This valuable experience, along with strong academic credentials (formerly president of Texas A&M and now William and Mary University), gives him an unparalleled perspective to comm After serving in the military, Robert Gates began his career in the 1960s as a CIA analyst, eventually rising to become head of the agency. He later served as Secretary of Defense in both Democratic and Republican administrations and also spent nearly nine years in the National Security Council under four presidents. This valuable experience, along with strong academic credentials (formerly president of Texas A&M and now William and Mary University), gives him an unparalleled perspective to comment on the uses and misuses of American power in foreign policy. "Exercise of Power" recounts each of this country's significant foreign involvements during the past 60+ years up to and including the challenges posed at present in dealing with China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. The US's over-reliance on military power and the resulting failures is theme that runs through the book. Before launching military action, there must be an achievable plan with a limited time horizon, the action must be welcomed by the locals, supported by opinion here at home, and mission creep avoided at all cost. In describing the decision-making surrounding each episode, which Gates does in thorough--some would say, excessive--detail, he points out how the softer power including improved strategic communications, better use of intelligence information and analyses, more prudent use economic carrots (development assistance) and sticks (trade sanctions), diplomacy, use of our advanced educational and technological resources, international alliances and institutions, and cyber might have produced more effective outcomes. He underscores the irony of Congressional objections to military interventions while reducing funding of alternative instruments of power. Gates also points to structural inadequacies in the State Department and other U.S. agencies tasked with carrying out foreign policy. Too often, these organizations pursue conflicting objectives, get in each others' way, and fight among themselves for funding. Some form of centralized integrated control is the solution, as illustrated in several initiatives carried out by Bush 45. He even briefly offers a suggestion for reform of Congressional committees. Above all, Gates warns of our nation's retreat into isolationism, countering that international engagement and global leadership is clearly in our own interest. The U.S. would do well to heed the advice of this qualified observer of America's power.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    Gates argues that the American government was a lot more focused during the Cold War. With a common enemy, we understood the necessity of using all the levels of government and power to fight the USSR. Military, economic aid and development, strategic communications, intelligence and investment in scientific discovery all went to countering Soviet influence around the world. Since the end of the Cold War, various departments within the government have road their own hobby horses. Congress has de Gates argues that the American government was a lot more focused during the Cold War. With a common enemy, we understood the necessity of using all the levels of government and power to fight the USSR. Military, economic aid and development, strategic communications, intelligence and investment in scientific discovery all went to countering Soviet influence around the world. Since the end of the Cold War, various departments within the government have road their own hobby horses. Congress has defunded the State Department, and development aid to a dangerous level and the military has had to plan for all possible contingencies. Gates shows this decline in effective American power by analyzing specific challenges faced by the American government in the post-Cold War period--Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Russia, and China. He tops this analysis with judgments of the performance of past presidents and their senior-most advisors, first-hand knowledge, and insider stories. Why I started this book: Overdrive hold arrived and I was aware of just how many people are waiting behind me. Why I finished it: Fascinating to see a former Secretary of Defense argue that the United States has relied too much on the military when dealing with its foreign policy. Gates argues that we need more tools in the tool box, that we need to fund the State Department, have a better American PR department and that our military can't solve every problem. That we need to coordinate economic power, development aid, PR, together when dealing with other countries and global crises.

  18. 5 out of 5

    John Munro

    Bob Gates' latest book is about the different kinds of power that nations can exert in their international roles, focusing on the U.S. and how it has used these forms of power in the post-Cold War era. In addition to the military power which has been used predominantly by America in this era, he delineates several non-military forms which can be employed in the international arena: diplomacy, economic leverage such as sanctions and development assistance, cyber, communications, intelligence (spy Bob Gates' latest book is about the different kinds of power that nations can exert in their international roles, focusing on the U.S. and how it has used these forms of power in the post-Cold War era. In addition to the military power which has been used predominantly by America in this era, he delineates several non-military forms which can be employed in the international arena: diplomacy, economic leverage such as sanctions and development assistance, cyber, communications, intelligence (spying), alliances, science and technology, and several others. He reviews how these various forms of power have been used in America's dealings with Colombia, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Yugoslavian conflicts, Africa, Russia, Ukraine and North Korea. He offers an analysis of the effectiveness of our actions in these countries and whether or not they were successful. A recurring theme is that non-military forms of power could have been applied more often in these conflicts, and that America's image in the world has suffered as a result. We are seen as too quick to resort to military solutions to global issues. As an advisor and cabinet member in several administrations, he is able to offer insights into the strategic thinking (and lack of it) that was employed during these conflicts. In the final chapter, he offers recommendations for the use of military and non-military power , especially communications, where he feels that the U.S. needs to do a better job of coordinating and disseminating our views for the maintenance of world peace.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    This is the kind of book students in national security and political science classes read. Author Robert Gates, of course, has a sterling reputation in this arena. Beginning his career as an analyst at CIA, he rose to the top of that agency and eventually served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents Bush II and Obama. He's a thoughtful sober man who has been a part of many of the major foreign policy choices the US has made over the last thirty or more years. In the book, Gates considers the us This is the kind of book students in national security and political science classes read. Author Robert Gates, of course, has a sterling reputation in this arena. Beginning his career as an analyst at CIA, he rose to the top of that agency and eventually served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents Bush II and Obama. He's a thoughtful sober man who has been a part of many of the major foreign policy choices the US has made over the last thirty or more years. In the book, Gates considers the use of American power, across the DIME spectrum, as it related to issues he worked over the course of his career. From confronting AIDS in Africa to dealing with North Korea to working with our allies, Gates writes about the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic tools at the President's disposal. Further, he writes about the US national security apparatus; including CIA, State, DoD, and the National Security Council; and how it has succeeded or failed with various challenges. This book isn't just a walk down memory lane, however. In his closing chapters, Gates draws together the lessons he's learned over his long career and offers a holistic approach to national security issues that'll be sure to inform many conversations both in the classroom and in the highest levels of the American national security decisionmaking apparatus. This is a fascinating book, well written and well read by narrator George Newbern. If you're a national security professional, you won't want to miss it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    A new administration (Biden's) is launching its foreign policy. For those interested in putting its approach in context, Gates' book makes for an excellent primer. Gates examines 15 U.S. foreign policy events to analyze why they succeeded, failed, or landed someplace in between. Gates' essential argument is that the U.S. has tended to under invest in and under employ non-military power to advance its interests and principles, as compared to using military force. He is particularly critical of ou A new administration (Biden's) is launching its foreign policy. For those interested in putting its approach in context, Gates' book makes for an excellent primer. Gates examines 15 U.S. foreign policy events to analyze why they succeeded, failed, or landed someplace in between. Gates' essential argument is that the U.S. has tended to under invest in and under employ non-military power to advance its interests and principles, as compared to using military force. He is particularly critical of our communication and economic influencers, which he sees as poorly developed and underfunded. He also sees government from the inside, so he comments extensively about its organizational deficiencies. Gates provides his personal guidelines for Presidential decision making in determining whether and how to intervene in a country, with a decided bias toward caution. As one might expect from a Republican, Gates is far more praise worthy of those administrations than Democratic ones, though Gates served in both. He is kinder than many would be to the Bush (43) administration than others might be. Gates views Donald Rumsfeld favorably and hardly comments on Dick Cheney. Colin Powell and Condelezza Rice are covered dispassionately. And of course, Gates was almost always right when others were wrong.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joey

    Insightful, but not terribly engaging. Gates too frequently gets bogged down in statistics, numbers, and unnecessary details. He's at his best when he illustrates his points with stories or personal anecdotes. We read Gates because of his access and the fact that he personally witnessed many of the events he describes. We don't read him because his research assistants can dig up laundry lists of dollar sums showing which countries spent how much on what. Most troubling though, Gates betrays a bit Insightful, but not terribly engaging. Gates too frequently gets bogged down in statistics, numbers, and unnecessary details. He's at his best when he illustrates his points with stories or personal anecdotes. We read Gates because of his access and the fact that he personally witnessed many of the events he describes. We don't read him because his research assistants can dig up laundry lists of dollar sums showing which countries spent how much on what. Most troubling though, Gates betrays a bit of a partisan slant in this book, more so than he did in Duty, which I've also read. It's subtle, not blatant, but it was breathtaking to me the way that he maintained that the Bush 43 administration did NOT fail to plan the aftermath of the Iraq invasion of 2003. I don't know how one makes that argument with a straight face. It also seemed to me that Gates is too quick to note our adversaries' strengths and too hesitant to point out their weaknesses. By his telling, Russia and China seemingly already have the United States up against the wall and it's just a waiting game until the US breathes its last. But Gates seems to overlook rather willfully the serious weakness plaguing, or soon to plague, authoritarian states like Russia and China, from economic overextension to domestic unrest. America has its issues, but being overtaken by its competitors is certainly not a given.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Meepspeeps

    This was a good review of American foreign interventions from about 1991-2018. The country-by-country chapters were informative, especially as different Presidents tried the same failing approaches and some different approaches to Iran, North Korea, and China in particular. In terms of interventions during man-made humanitarian disasters, he quotes a Stimson Center report from 1994 that the UN (and presumably the USA) should not intervene if there are “no security guarantees, no cooperation betw This was a good review of American foreign interventions from about 1991-2018. The country-by-country chapters were informative, especially as different Presidents tried the same failing approaches and some different approaches to Iran, North Korea, and China in particular. In terms of interventions during man-made humanitarian disasters, he quotes a Stimson Center report from 1994 that the UN (and presumably the USA) should not intervene if there are “no security guarantees, no cooperation between the parties, and no readily achievable mandates.” It sounds inhumane given the human suffering, but intellectually, and for the sake of the people who would go there to intervene, it makes sense. He strongly endorses USA global leadership, especially using non military power such as communication, diplomacy, economic incentives, and development; he makes the case for convincing more Americans that these powers are worth funding and coordinating better across agencies, especially to avoid military interventions. I recommend it to anyone interested in American foreign policy the last 30 years and what may be needed going forward.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Miguel

    The first two chapters are reminiscent of a lecture series one would hear at a military academy as they deal with power largely executed through military means. The bulk of the book revolves around discussing specific countries or regions, mainly as hot spots for US interests or interventions that have occurred over the past 30 years or the time that Gates was in a position of power and influence. The main issue here is that most of these often read like Wikipedia articles and the level of insig The first two chapters are reminiscent of a lecture series one would hear at a military academy as they deal with power largely executed through military means. The bulk of the book revolves around discussing specific countries or regions, mainly as hot spots for US interests or interventions that have occurred over the past 30 years or the time that Gates was in a position of power and influence. The main issue here is that most of these often read like Wikipedia articles and the level of insight doesn’t go beyond what one would find from being a regular news reader. In the final chapter there is some payoff with Gates pulling back the curtain just a bit more on his thought processes – it’s a bit alarming to hear that he considers Nixon and Reagan the only Presidents he worked under who he viewed as having a well-developed foreign policy. At least Gates is no John Bolton or other borderline psychopath who have inhabited posts of foreign power influence in the US administration – he largely stays in the lane adhering to real-politik and the role of a US-dominated world stage.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Bobin

    We live in a complex world where international relations are ever changing. This will take you through eight presidents and more than four decades of government decision making at the highest levels. The world is a complex place and filled with personal dynamics that create conflict and build relationships that evolve over time. Gates does an excellent job of highlighting the good and the mistakes made in each of the administrations he worked under. Political party is not the focus of this writi We live in a complex world where international relations are ever changing. This will take you through eight presidents and more than four decades of government decision making at the highest levels. The world is a complex place and filled with personal dynamics that create conflict and build relationships that evolve over time. Gates does an excellent job of highlighting the good and the mistakes made in each of the administrations he worked under. Political party is not the focus of this writing and each administration is treated with the same integrity. One of the highlights for me was the tremendous job he does of explaining the way international relationships are built and destroyed while weaving a complex web through multiple disciplines. While dealing with a complex subject it is done in such a way that almost anyone could understand. There is much food for thought here and well worth the time to read if you have an interest in history, politics, business and several other similar topics.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    A book that argues for the necessity of realist theory in international relations in the 21st century after its shunning following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Understanding the bias that comes with Gates' writing, this book provides a fresh perspective on the inner workings of the U.S. government over the past forty years that isn't coming from the viewpoint of the State Department or the White House. Compared to the memoirs of Samantha Power, Condoleezza Rice, or Ben Rhodes, A book that argues for the necessity of realist theory in international relations in the 21st century after its shunning following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Understanding the bias that comes with Gates' writing, this book provides a fresh perspective on the inner workings of the U.S. government over the past forty years that isn't coming from the viewpoint of the State Department or the White House. Compared to the memoirs of Samantha Power, Condoleezza Rice, or Ben Rhodes, Gates gives the argument that the U.S. military can not and should not be the first option to resolving the problems of the world that the president faces, but rather that we must strengthen our non-military options, such as economic, diplomatic, and strategic communication tools. Though this may not be the intention of his writing, Gates confirms the current rule of thought that the relevance of realist theory in the modern world is its grounding in the protection of liberalist theory, linking the two camps together.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Derek

    I learned a lot from this book. In each chapter, Gates covers a different country with which the US has either engaged militarily or had other other major relations. At the start of each chapter, he lays out each country's history, specifically as it relates to the US. Then he provides a clear breakdown of what went well for the US in its actions toward that country, what could or should have been handled differently, and how future presidents can do better. You can find all the history in the bo I learned a lot from this book. In each chapter, Gates covers a different country with which the US has either engaged militarily or had other other major relations. At the start of each chapter, he lays out each country's history, specifically as it relates to the US. Then he provides a clear breakdown of what went well for the US in its actions toward that country, what could or should have been handled differently, and how future presidents can do better. You can find all the history in the book from other sources, but if you're not well versed in US history after the Cold War, you'll learn a lot. In terms of the analysis by Gates, I thoroughly enjoyed how simply he breaks down the ways US power has been used well or poorly. The book was also well written and didn't feel as dense as similar books I have read. Overall, I highly recommend his book if you want to learn more about US foreign affairs over the past few decades.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    I first learned of this book from an interview of the former US Secretary of Defense on CBS morning. I knew immediately that I wanted to read it because the period of time covered is also the length of my life so far. My parents were raised in the same town but did not meet until college, although their parents knew each other given that his grandfather had long been active in the State Democratic Party, while her father had long been a leader of the State Republican Party. This was during WWII I first learned of this book from an interview of the former US Secretary of Defense on CBS morning. I knew immediately that I wanted to read it because the period of time covered is also the length of my life so far. My parents were raised in the same town but did not meet until college, although their parents knew each other given that his grandfather had long been active in the State Democratic Party, while her father had long been a leader of the State Republican Party. This was during WWII and my father had joined the Army Air Force long before they wed, but once he was called to begin pilot training, he, his wife, and eventually their five children were committed to this country and its safety. The years that Secretary Gates discusses have revived for me--and clarified in unexpected ways--the events and circumstances of these amazing times.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    The first few chapters of this book were great and insightful as was the last chapter (“Lessons Learned”). The remainder of the book was one long global history lesson of the last 40 years divided into chapters by country. It was a nice review of what happened but I was hoping for even more personal commentary from Gates about why certain presidents had successes and other failures. He did a bit of this during each chapter (maybe a paragraph or two) but I was looking for much more. Gates has the The first few chapters of this book were great and insightful as was the last chapter (“Lessons Learned”). The remainder of the book was one long global history lesson of the last 40 years divided into chapters by country. It was a nice review of what happened but I was hoping for even more personal commentary from Gates about why certain presidents had successes and other failures. He did a bit of this during each chapter (maybe a paragraph or two) but I was looking for much more. Gates has the unique benefit of having served under 7 different presidents from both administrations. Share that expertise, please! I do commend him for keeping the book factual as I saw little to no partisan slant, which is very hard to come by these days. Thank you, Bob.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Karen Shea

    As an American, geopolitics is interesting for a lot of reasons. It's a story in which we can always see ourselves as the main character and it's a riveting story: deep main character, with a lot of flaws, (like a lot) but generally a well-intentioned force. Intentions don't really mean shit when it comes to foreign affairs apparently though. Gates successfully rids the book of partisan slant, and this makes it a more interesting read. I've learned that POTUS is probably the worst job in the worl As an American, geopolitics is interesting for a lot of reasons. It's a story in which we can always see ourselves as the main character and it's a riveting story: deep main character, with a lot of flaws, (like a lot) but generally a well-intentioned force. Intentions don't really mean shit when it comes to foreign affairs apparently though. Gates successfully rids the book of partisan slant, and this makes it a more interesting read. I've learned that POTUS is probably the worst job in the world, and that every president makes decision first as an individual with beliefs and second, as a democrat/republican, or what have you. It's also made me realize how little most Americans know the history of other countries and how that influences our engagements with them.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Adolfo Schael

    Mr. Gates presented and exhaustive and well balanced recount of the application of USA policy related to different types International Interventions , each one on the context of each of the post cold war US presidents. His thesis about how to understand the Element of Political Power and how to use them to influence world politics strike me as very coherent and potentially positives if well applied. I feel feel this book is a must read for anyone involved in the application of international poli Mr. Gates presented and exhaustive and well balanced recount of the application of USA policy related to different types International Interventions , each one on the context of each of the post cold war US presidents. His thesis about how to understand the Element of Political Power and how to use them to influence world politics strike me as very coherent and potentially positives if well applied. I feel feel this book is a must read for anyone involved in the application of international policy or just for anybody who is interested on how the most influential governments of the world can and in fact do impact our daily lives

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