Tuesday, March 31, 2009

dizzy memories of crisis and defeat


Most vivid memories are not
of victories, but crisis and defeat,
It’s harder to remember what
caused you to feel elated and upbeat
that to recall the moments when
you felt your life had spun out of control,
so that you would never reach again
the top of life’s egregious, greasy pole.

Inspired by an article by Elisabeth Bumiller (“Gates Securing a Role Under Another President,” NYT, March 31, 2009) in which she writes about Robert Gates, whom Obama appointed to continue acting as Secretary of Defense, a position he also held in the George W. Bush Administration. The title and last lines are inspired by Benjamin Disraeli’s statement when he took over from Lord Derby as Prime Minister of England in 1868, becoming in his own words, the most important Jew since St. Paul: “Yes, I have reached the top of the greasy pole.” Bumiller writes:

Friends say they expect that Mr. Gates, 65, will stay on as Mr. Obama’s defense secretary beyond a single year, his expected tenure when Mr. Obama appointed him. Still, Mr. Gates’s wife continues to spend six months of the year at their home near Seattle. Mr. Gates has made no secret of his distaste for Washington, where in 1991 confirmation hearings for intelligence chief he was accused of politicizing Reagan-era intelligence and exaggerating the Soviet threat. These days he lives a life of take-out food and briefing books in a home at a small military compound near the State Department. Mr. Gates has been careful about comparing his two most recent bosses, although on a recent appearance on the NBC program “Meet the Press” he called Mr. Obama “somewhat more analytical” than Mr. Bush. Still, Mr. Gates’s advisers say he has no illusions of how difficult Afghanistan will be. “The White House is a poignant place,” Mr. Gates wrote in his 1996 memoir, “From the Shadows.” He added: “It seems to me that for those who live and work there, if they are completely honest with themselves, with rare exception the most vivid memories are not of victory but of crisis and defeat — and, for a fortunate few, of one or two occasions of historical importance.”

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 3/31/09

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