Sunday, June 15, 2014

the last book I ever read (Duty by Robert M. Gates, excerpt sixteen)

from Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M. Gates:

I suppose I should have known better going in, but I was constantly amazed and infuriated at the hypocrisy of those who most stridently attacked the Defense Department for being inefficient and wasteful but would fight tooth and nail to prevent any reduction in defense activities in their home state or district no matter how inefficient or wasteful. However, behavior that was simply frustrating to me in 2009-10 will seriously impair our national security in the years ahead as the defense budget shrinks: failure to cut or close unneeded programs and facilities will drain precious dollars from the troops and our war-fighting capabilities.

A second source of frustration, as you might suspect, was the failure of Congress to do its most basic job: appropriate money. I prepared five budgets for Congress from 2007 to 2011, and not once was a defense appropriations bill enacted before the start of the new fiscal year. The impact of this, and the associated “continuing resolutions”—which kept the funding level at the previous year’s appropriations and did not allow for starting any new program—was dramatically disruptive of sensible and efficient management of the department. This was an outrageous dereliction of duty.

I was exceptionally offended by the constant adversarial, inquisitionlike treatment of executive branch officials by too many members of Congress across the political spectrum—a kangaroo-court environment in hearings, especially when the press and television cameras were present. Sharp questioning of witnesses should be expected and is entirely appropriate. But rude, insulting, belittling, bullying, and all too often highly personal attacks by members of Congress violated nearly every norm of civil behavior as they postured and acted as judge, jury, and executioner. It was as though most members were in a permanent state of outrage or suffered from some sort of mental duress that warranted confinement or at least treatment for anger management. I had to put up with less of this Queeg-like behavior than almost anyone, but I was infuriated by the harsh treatment of my subordinates, both civilian and military. The temptation to stand up, slam the briefing book shut, and quit on the spot recurred often. All too frequently, sitting at that witness table, the exit lines were on the tip of my tongue: I may be the secretary of defense, but I am also an American citizen, and there is no son of a bitch in the world who can talk to me like that. I quit. Find somebody else. I was, I am confident, a widely shared fantasy throughout the executive branch. And it was always enjoyable to listen to three former senators—Obama, Biden, and Clinton—trash-talking Congress.

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