January 7th, 2014
07:07 PM ET
9 years ago

Gates' tell-all rattles White House, Congress

Updated 12:05 p.m. ET, 1/8/2014

(CNN) - Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates set off shock waves in Washington with accounts from his upcoming memoir, in which he unleashes blistering criticism of Congress and his former colleagues in the Obama administration.

He also claims the President lost faith in his own Afghanistan policy.

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Gates' comments come in his memoir "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War," which was obtained by CNN but set to be released next week.

In the book, Gates writes, "[Obama] eventually lost faith in the troop increase he ordered in Afghanistan, his doubts fed by top White House civilian advisers opposed to the strategy, who continually brought him negative news reports suggesting it was failing."

A Republican appointee of President George W. Bush who stayed on into Obama's administration, Gates also writes of a pivotal 2011 meeting in which Obama questions the abilities of Gen. David H. Petraeus.

"As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn't trust his commander, can't stand Karzai, doesn't believe in his own strategy and doesn't consider the war to be his...For him, it's all about getting out," Gates writes.

A source familiar with White House thinking on how to respond to Gates' memoir told CNN that White House officials have been in meetings on the issue and were reaching out to allies to defend the President against the claims.

The source said they are being careful not to attack Gates directly, thinking that will backfire.

Officials believe Obama's foreign policy legacy is strong because of his Afghanistan policies and the killing of Osama bin Laden, and that Gates' accusations don't hurt with the Democratic base.

A White House official called attention to two parts of the book that reflect positively on the President. Gates said of Obama's chief Afghanistan policies, "I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions."

"I never doubted Obama's support for the troops," Gates writes. The official, however, did not highlight the rest of the sentence, which says "only his support for their mission."

A former White House official contested the excerpts saying, "I thought the President was a close ally of Gates. It's disappointing, because if Gates had issues you would've expected him to raise them. When I spoke to Gates about the president he was always effusive."

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the President "deeply appreciates Gates' service" and is open to differing points of view from his national security team.

"Deliberations over our policy on Afghanistan have been widely reported on over the years, and it is well known that the President has been committed to achieving the mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda, while also ensuring that we have a clear plan for winding down the war, which will end this year," Hayden said in response to the comments.

A senior U.S. military official involved in some of the events described in the book expressed dismay with Gates, telling CNN that if Gates had been in uniform and felt that the President and his staff were deficient, he would have had an obligation to resign. He noted some may feel Gates also had the same obligation given that he signed orders sending troops off to war.

This official was directly involved in Afghanistan troop surge discussions. He was adamant the military commanders did not "game" the President on the numbers, but they came to realize Obama felt that way.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake tweeted in response to reports of the memoir, criticizing the timing of the former defense secretary's comments.

Criticism of Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden

Gates was also critical of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, recounting a conversation between Obama and Clinton suggesting political motives for their positions on Iraq.

"Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] surge in Iraq has been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary,” Gates writes. “The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying."

Republicans use Gates' new book to hammer Clinton, Biden

The former White House official responded, "President Obama evaluated the merits of the surge but his opposition to it was not political, rather in line with his thought that more of the same was not the right path."

Of Biden, Gates wrote, "I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Hayden said Obama disagrees with Gates' assessment of Biden and hailed the Vice President as "one of the leading statesmen of his time."

One day after Gates book bonanza, a rare peek into Obama-Biden lunch

Criticism of Congress more severe

For as scathing as Gates was in describing the Obama administration, the former defense secretary said none of the difficulties he had with the executive branch "compared with the pain of dealing with Congress," a body he describes as phony, self-centered and narrow-minded.

"Congress is best viewed from a distance – the farther the better – because up close, it is truly ugly," Gates wrote in a piece in the Wall Street Journal, which was adapted from his book.

"I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country."

Gates opened the piece by writing that in the numerous times he testified before Congress, he found himself "tempted to stand up, slam the briefing book shut and quit on the spot" because of the "rude, insulting, belittling, bullying and all too often highly personal attacks" one has to endure during congressional testimony.

He said if he had done so, he would have told Congress, "I may be the secretary of defense, but I am also an American citizen, and there is no son of a bitch in the world who can talk to me like that."

"Members postured and acted as judge, jury and executioner," he wrote.

His hypothesis as to why so many members "were in a permanent state of outrage:" The members must have "suffered from some sort of mental duress that warranted confinement or at least treatment for anger management."

Another congressional thorn in Gates' side brought to light in his opinion editorial is how Congress handled deciding which defense instillations and bases to close during budget tightening.

Gates wrote that "any defense facility or contract in their district or state, no matter how superfluous or wasteful, was sacrosanct," even if the member had "stridently attacked the Defense Department as inefficient and wasteful."

Why he wrote the book—now

Critics of the memoir blasted Gates for publishing the critique in the middle of the Obama’s second term, saying the more appropriate move would have been to wait until after his former boss leaves the White House in 2016.

A source close to Gates noted that he’s a historian by nature and wanted to document what went on but didn't want to wait because he believed the content of his book is all still relevant and should be discussed real time, especially issues of war and the troops.

The dysfunction in Washington and the way commanders and generals were treated really upset him, the source added.

Gates disagrees that his decision to release the book now is disloyal. In fact, he believes just the opposite and stands by all of it, the source said.

As for Gates’ stinging criticism of Congress, the source said Gates had the most disdain for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, though he didn’t give specific names of lawmakers.

- CNN's Brianna Keilar, Barbara Starr, Dana Bash, Dan Merica, Dana Davidsen and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.


Filed under: Obama administration • Robert Gates • White House
soundoff (625 Responses)
  1. angryinct

    Sounds like the President was correct. Gates and the others sold us a real bill of goods.

    January 8, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  2. Smitty

    You just cant make this stuff up, another day another Obammy mess

    January 8, 2014 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  3. Zeke

    Van Jones is not too bright. I remember how he slunk out of the White House in the early years when he was exposed for what he is.Remember, Van Jones is one of the crazys that said the World Trade Center was an inside job.

    People have criticized presidents for many, many years, but Obama cannot handle it.. He appointed Gates and now that Gates is blowing the whistle on the stupid inner working of the white house, Obama sends his front men and women out to protect him. He does not have the ability to do it himself.

    The more the American people see the real Obama, the less they like him or his policies. He is an abject failure as President, but maybe he can become a better community advisor in a few years.

    January 8, 2014 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  4. badnews333

    Glad to see something rattles the White House. Hope Gates writes another scathing book.

    January 8, 2014 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  5. US_Gilr

    WH says it it coincidental that President Obama allowed the press into the Biden/Obama luncheon. Yep, purely coincidental after months and months of fighting the press over access. Can't be the Gates book response at all.

    January 8, 2014 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  6. Beth

    What else is new. Obama hasn't a clue and doesn't want to buy a vowel. Biggest disaster in my lifetime and I'm no kid.

    January 8, 2014 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  7. PrettyFingFunny

    Sounds like that according to Gates, he is the only smart guy in the world? Everyone else can't keep up with his amazing intellect.

    January 8, 2014 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  8. sly

    Everything this guy wrote makes me like President Obama more.

    Best Foreign Policy President in 30 years – killed America's #1 enemy, killed Khadafy, ended the Bush Oil War in Iraq, stopped chemical warfare in Syria.

    And this day wouldn't be complete without a big hand for Chris Christie: "I was misfed" by my aides. Thank you Chris for 8 more years of Democrats!

    January 8, 2014 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  9. PaulC

    Gates has nothing to brag about so he trashes others with aook of his thoughts and opinions and not to be taken as
    words from on high.
    Worth exactly what I paid for it....nothing..

    January 8, 2014 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  10. ACMI

    Gates isn't saying anything new...POTUS is in over his head and clueless on how to handle it.

    January 8, 2014 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  11. john brown

    I'm pre-ordering my copy today. I hope Gates gets rich off of the TRUTH he has the guts to tell the American people. We deserve after having such a deceitful Administration thus far.

    January 8, 2014 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  12. LARod1775

    All he doing is feeding 100% of the buyers; BIGOTS LOVE IT! Oh! They have Huge finances also!!

    January 8, 2014 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  13. WerreDesigns

    I think his summation of the congress is right on the money.

    January 8, 2014 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  14. DustyOnes

    Obama is a putz...going to be a fun 2014.

    January 8, 2014 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  15. WerreDesigns

    Most of the congress has been there way too long. Congress was never supposed to be a career. It was supposed to be a way to let the constituency have a say in how we are governed. The reason there is such a big deal made about the 100 days is because that was supposed to be all the time that was needed for congress to get things done, then they were supposed to go back to their regular careers in their states for the remainder of the year. How does Harry Reid contribute to the betterment of Navada when he's not in Washington. What is his Job in Navada. Same could be said for the entire congress. (House and Senate)

    January 8, 2014 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  16. RE

    Gates must have slept through the Bush administration, who's foreign policy consisted of bullying everybody.

    January 8, 2014 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  17. MC

    Amazingly, NOTHING was written about republicans doing crap in his book. Nothing about the war, nothing about the 700 billion dollar bailout, nothing about the value of the dollar going to crap. I'll use the paper in the book to wipe my you know what.

    January 8, 2014 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  18. craig

    I think it's true Obama lacked conviction, going back on the very values he was elected for, namely rights and freedoms. His back-pedalling and softening of position is not hard to believe. However, this Gates fellow was privileged to be at these meetings because his views were obviously welcomed and likely encouraged. Instead, he shows he's just a weasel shoe-polisher who grovels disingenuously, and then stabs people behind the back while glorifying himself when looking at things from the benefit of hindsight. Of all people, this fellow, who was entrusted to make a difference, but didn't use that power, has no right to say anything. Although Obama's views were eroded, that is just him. This fellow is like a police officer who watches an armed robbery happen, is too cowardly to do anything about it despite it being his job to do so, and then derides his commanding officer after he retires.

    January 8, 2014 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  19. Duane

    Gates does point out one thing I fully believe in.. "I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country."

    January 8, 2014 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  20. Mike500

    Obama's legacy will be as one of the most incompetent presidents of modern times.

    January 8, 2014 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  21. gahh

    If I had been Gates, I would have given Congress the disrespect, they deserve. They're nothing but sellouts to Lobbyists, and Lobby money. That's why they have an approval rating, of 9 percent, and why so high?

    January 8, 2014 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  22. Iamnotfooled

    It's simple. Gates wanted war and President Obama wanted us out of there.

    January 8, 2014 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  23. yogi

    Republicans glorify wars, they don't have the word peace in their vocabulary. It is time the U.S. stops being the policeman of the world. Enough is enough.

    January 8, 2014 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  24. Catherine

    Truth does that – yeah it does!

    January 8, 2014 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  25. rey

    Gates must be auditioning for a job with fox news. Great, they deserve each other.

    January 8, 2014 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
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