The End of the Cold War

Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows

Gates, Robert M. From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

CLARK COMMENT: Publication of former DCI Bob Gates' story of his multi-positioned career in the U.S. national security establishment was greeted by a plethora of reviews and other comments. The most negative take on the book came from Ralph McGehee, the compiler of CIABASE, who found nothing positive in the book, and concluded that "it is difficult to believe anything he [Gates] says." (Comments posted in the <> news group.)

McGehee's is an unnecessarily harsh judgment. Virtually all writers of memoirs (McGehee among them) use the occasion to tell the story their way. Readers of those memoirs have to make judgments about the credibility of the writer based on their own knowledge of the subject area. I see nothing here that is out of step with either my experience (which is, admittedly, not at Gates' level) or other available accounts. Beyond that, however, what he says has considerable value in trying to interpret the events upon which he comments.

I particularly recommend Thomas Powers' finely nuanced review essay, "Who Won the Cold War?" New York Review of Books, 20 Jun. 1996, pp. 20-27. However, it is best read after reading Gates' From the Shadows. The manner in which Powers uses the Gates book to answer the question raised in the article's title may be one of the tighter argued presentations on the subject.

Hendrickson, FA 75.4, calls this an "engaging account -- part memoir, part history -- of the last half of the Cold War.... [Gates] is a surprisingly good writer ... [and] his analysis overall has a disinterested quality unusual for a participant. He stresses the extraordinary continuity of American policy from Nixon to Bush.... The most important ... continuity of all, he insists, was that between Carter and Reagan."

Bates, NIPQ, Oct. 1997, has trouble with Gates' main theme of the continuity of foreign policy from Johnson through Bush, particularly with what Gates sees as Carter's contribution to waging the Cold War. Beyond that, however, the reviewer accepts that this is an important book, terming it "the best description of the decline and fall of the Soviet Union I have seen."

According to Morley, WPNWE, 29 Jul.-4 Aug. 1996, "Gates' perspective is that of the detached insider. He is both fond of and bemused by the men he served.... He is world-weary about the hazards of interagency policy-making, as only someone truly skilled in that vicious art can be." Robbins, CIRA Newsletter, Fall 1996, comments on the "near adulation" Gates shows toward the presidents he served. The former DCI "is at his best when he adds interesting anecdotal snippets to his descriptions of world leaders and events."

Surveillant 4.4/5 refers to From the Shadows as "skillfully crafted and highly recommended," while Jonkers, AIJ 17.1/2, finds "a superbly written and interesting book" that "[s]hould be read by analysts and briefers!" Friedman, Parameters, Summer 1997, finds "the greatest value of this book i[n] the insight it provides regarding White House and executive planning and policy during the five administrations with which the author was associated."

To Shryock, WIR 15.4, Gates is "often self-centered and subjective" in his presentation of a "strange amalgam of memoirs, historical review, and tendentious textbook." Nevertheless, he "can be an entertaining teller of tales, an occasionally shrewd judge of character, an insightful commentator on the problems of intelligence, and sometimes even a perceptive ... chronicler of events."

Pforzheimer,, says that this book "is arguably the most important book on the CIA of its kind.... [I]ts greatest contribution is on CIA's substantive work in the field of Soviet political, military, and economic affairs, showing where CIA was more often correct than many writers have previously been willing to admit, but still showing when CIA substantive production was in some measure erroneous."

On the other hand, Johnson, Foreign Policy, Winter 1996/97, writes that Gates has not brought much from the shadows with him -- or at least not as much as readers might have expected. He "offers few glimpses into how the CIA works." Nevertheless, the book is "well worth reading.... Gates demonstrates considerable acumen as a storyteller and analyst when tracing the rise and fall of the Evil Empire during his years in intelligence."

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