However, as Fisher points out, in his piece excerpted below, foreign policy is fraught with risk, based as it is on fragmentary information, and highly subjective in its application as well as in its historic interpretation.
There are numerous commentaries this week about how Gates' memoir is so astonishing in its candor, especially given his nearly platinum reputation in Washington on both sides of the political divide.
One wonders if laying it all out there is not something the Washington "bubble" is either accustomed to reading and facing, or whether a man of such reputation should or would "stoop to such a low" as Gates appears to have done in this book.
Some must be wondering if Gates does not see an opening for his own attempt at the highest office, given how his most public attacks have been levelled on the Obama administration officials including former Secretary of State Clinton, and even the president. Or, as a historian, is Gates merely providing opinionated fodder for the next class of Republican presidential candidates to pitch from the platform as they trudge through the snow and sleet on their way to securing the party's nomination for 2016. Clearly, leaving Condolessa Rice aside, there are very few well known names who could form their own credible views on foreign policy should they throw their hat into the ring, for the GOP, and Gates' new book could become many of the campaign headlines that will resonate among GOP circles for the next couple of years.
Meanwhile, given the media's coverage of the most controversial "hits" from Gates, the book is assured significant sales, and the author a protracted speaking tour.
By Max Fisher, Washington Post blogger, January 7, 2014
Back in 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev took over as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the United States faced a really big dilemma. Gorbachev professed to be a reformer. Should the United States work with him to reduce nuclear weapons, ease the U.S.-Soviet proxy battles that were at that point directly responsible for a number of deadly conflicts around the world and, just maybe, try to end the Cold War? This wasn't just a major, difficult question: It would turn out to be one of the most important U.S. foreign policy decisions in decades.
President Ronald Reagan eventually came around to the idea that, yes, he could and should work with Gorbachev. He was persuaded by, among others, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who famously said that Gorbachev was a man the West could do business with.
But Reagan had to overcome the fierce opposition of a top CIA Kremlinologist and eventual CIA director named Robert M. Gates, who maintained for years that Gorbachev was no reformer, that he was not to be trusted and that Reagan would be walking into a Soviet ploy.
Quite simply, Gates was wrong, overruled by Reagan, and the world was better off for it. Here is the beginning of Gates's campaign against Gorbachev, as chronicled in David Hoffman's Pulitzer Prize-winning history, "The Dead Hand," which shows that Gates actually tried to steer CIA analysis of Gorbachev in such a way as to create congressional pressure against working with the new Soviet leader:
Among the hardliners, Robert Gates, then the deputy CIA director for intelligence, felt that Gorbachev was a tough guy wearing a well-tailored suit. Underneath, he saw trouble, and did not want to be fooled. In the weeks before Gorbachev took power, in February 1985, Gates wrote a memo to one of the CIA's leading Soviet experts. "I don't much care for the way we are writing about Gorbachev," Gates said. "We are losing the thread of what toughness and skill brought him to where he is. This is not some Gary Hart or Lee Iacocca. We have to give the policy-makers a clearer view of the kind of person they may be facing." Gates said he felt that Gorbachev was the heir to Andropov, the former KGB chief, and to Suslov, the onetime orthodox ideology chief. Thus, Gates said, Gorbachev "could not be all sweetness and light. These had been two of the hardest cases in recent Soviet history. They would not a wimp under their wing."