Despite the obvious intelligence and security failures that contributed to the attack against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, the reality is that in one night, an al Qaeda-affiliated group destroyed a diplomatic post, killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, and forced an end to clandestine U.S. activity in the area.
'Duty' is a refreshingly honest memoir and a moving one. Mr. Gates scrupulously identifies his flaws and mistakes: He waited too long, for example, for the military bureaucracy to fix critical supply issues like the drones needed in Iraq and took three years to replace a dysfunctional command structure in Afghanistan.
By the end of 2008, clearly, the al Qaeda and Sunni insurgency had been relatively stabilized. And in the al Qaeda's mind, they were defeated. They actually said that in many of their transmissions that we were able to pick up. And the Shia militia, largely those trained by the Iranians in Basra and also in Sadr City, had been defeated.
I totally disagree with the premise that al Qaeda is on the path to defeat. Quite the contrary, al Qaeda has deliberately decentralized its operations - not because of the relentless attacks we have had on its national leadership in Pakistan, but because its strategic objective is to dominate and control Muslim countries in the region.
Afghanistan is where much of the al Qaeda journey began. It is the main site where Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and their cohort rose to prominence fighting the Soviets in the 1980s. Afghan territory holds special significance to the group, which is committed to retaking it and re-establishing it as the base of a global movement.
In 2012, General Dempsey, General Petraeus directed the CIA, Secretary Panetta and Secretary Clinton recommended to the president to robustly arm and train the Syrian moderates. He says no. In 2013, conduct a military strike, same national security team, against the Assad regime because he violated the chemical red line. He says no.
Senator Clinton is very knowledgeable about national security and is probably going to be strong on defense. I have no doubts whatsoever that if she were president in January '09, she would not act irresponsibly and issue orders to conduct an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, regardless of the consequences, and squander the gains that have been made.
I believe, for a long time, protracted wars test the will of any democracy, to be sure, and people will underwrite a protracted war if they see some progress. But if they don't see progress, and it appears to be futile and useless, then that political support begins to evaporate rather quickly.