SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gate's new book, "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War," paints a picture of a White House suspicious of military leaders and their motives. As NPR's Tom Bowman reports, Mr. Gates' memoir is a case study of civilian military tensions that's as old as the republic.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Gates takes the reader inside the White House. A debate was on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. Senior officers were pushing for tens of thousands more. They were making their case publicly. Obama was furious, convinced they were trying to box him in. Do they resent me that I never served in the military, Obama says, according to Gates. Do they think that because I'm young I don't see what they're doing?
PETE MANSOOR: I don't think it speaks very highly of the president.
BOWMAN: Retired Colonel, Peter Mansoor is an Iraq war veteran who worked closely with General David Patraeus. He now teaches at Ohio State.
MANSOOR: To think that the military was purposely trying to jam him means that he knows very little about military leaders. They were giving their best military advice.
BOWMAN: But the Pentagon press has never been shy about pushing their own agenda in Washington, everything from policy issues to weapons systems, even with presidents who were veterans. Peter Feaver served on the White House National Security Council under both Presidents Clinton and George. W. Bush. He says the Obama Administration suspicion of the military is not surprising.
PETER FEAVER: When you have Democrats coming in, that can be intensified because of the perception that the military as an institution leans in the Republican conservative direction.
BOWMAN: And that suspicion intention has a long history. Lincoln was openly belittled by his army commander, George McClelland. Harry Truman famously dismissed General Douglas McArthur for insubordination. Richard Kohn studies civilian military relations at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He says as the military as modernized, so too has a wariness of civilian leaders.
RICHARD KOHN: Rarely have administrations come in since World War II without some suspicions of the military; their power, their influence, the senior people that desire to shape the outcome of decisions and policies.
BOWMAN: Kohn says he's surprised that Gates would come out with a book now. The norm in Washington is to hold off writing a book until a president leaves office.
KOHN: It speaks of something of a betrayal of trust. It simply weakens the president and if Mr. Gates wants to serve in the military he loves, he wouldn't weaken its loyalty and its ability to do its duty for this commander-in-chief for the next three years.
BOWMAN: For his part, Gates says he didn't want to wait until Obama's term is up in 2017. Too many of the issues need more immediate attention - Afghanistan, military spending, a dysfunctional government.
FEAVER: Certainly he's raised fair criticisms that should be aired.
BOWMAN: Again, Peter Feaver, the former White House staffer. He says a book will only lead the Obama Administration to be more wary of the military.
FEAVER: Because now they're looking at everyone else in the room and wondering who they should leave out of the room because that person might be in the process of writing a savage critique of them.
BOWMAN: Gates acknowledges in his book that the civilian military relationship is often a tense one. He criticizes admirals and generals who seek what he calls a high public profile, talking too much about politically sensitive issues. Gates can't imagine why they Tweet and blog. But he faults political leaders for using the military as props to sell their own policies, knowing those in uniform are popular with the public.
Politicians, even in the White House, he writes, can't have it both ways. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.
SIMON: And on Monday's MORNING EDITION, Steve Inskeep will speak with Robert Gates in the first interview conducted since details of Mr. Gates' book became public.
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