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. Honor Is Gone

    Goodness what a shame Gates did this book for money. I guess he misses the government perks, driver, cook, housekeeper, landscaper, housing allowance and so forth. He worked for the government so long he has no idea how real people live. What a superego Gates has he should have resigned if he felt this way. I have no respect for the kiss and tell crowd.

    January 7, 2014 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  2. Smitty

    Another day and another Obamma mess. Boy, you cant make his stuff up. Just one bonehead decision after another.
    I remember when people looked at the USA as a leader, I guess Obammy took care of that.

    January 7, 2014 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  3. Jane

    How can we be in a country that their prez and people do not want us there? Obama is right, we need to stay out of the Muslim countries and their business.

    January 7, 2014 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  4. harv

    Another Washington insider with a self promotion book. Robert Gates wanted to blast the suspected hideout of Bin Laden. President Obama insisted on direct proof with boots on the ground. Gates was wrong. What else is Gates wrong about?

    January 7, 2014 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  5. ImvotingforHillary

    What do you expect from a Republican. Notice how he wouldn't criticize the incompetence of Bush that got us in these wars in the first place and failed to catch Bin Laden.

    January 7, 2014 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  6. swatguy

    Wow, Van Jones is mad at Gates, who would have thought? Obama was and is a rookie in both foreign policy and military affairs. Gates will have far more credibility than Obama ever will have. Can't wait for the "Gates hates Obama because he is black" card to be played....or maybe Jones just played it.

    January 7, 2014 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  7. ...***...

    i liked gates until i watched The Invisible War. i realize that he didn't start it, but he didn't do enough to stop it either.

    January 7, 2014 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  8. Dave - Phx

    Another George Bush war ended and the military industrial complex and their paid schills write books,

    January 7, 2014 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  9. ...***...

    it doesn't shock me that hillary's vote was political. did she get an uncontested senate seat for voting for iraq war?

    January 7, 2014 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  10. Taken4granted

    well said, well said. A man looking in at a glass of walls breaking down in different directions, both the WH and Congress.

    January 7, 2014 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  11. Dean Abramson

    "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,"

    Well, Petraues was running around on his wife, Karzai is a crook, the strategy of having a war in Afghanistan because some Saudis made 9/11 happen was created by Bush and never had any logical endgame, and getting out was the only thing that ever made any sense. And, it turns out that Obama's Republican Secretary of Defense knows nothing about loyalty.

    So where;s the bombshell?

    January 7, 2014 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  12. ddanfl

    aren't you at least little worried on what he wrote over as supposed as to how much you dislike it that he wrote it?, Nice words , you Newt Gingrich, nice jab, after that he was like, oh well, hmmm, yes, but, huhhh, love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 7, 2014 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  13. Bob

    Surprised CNN is actually talking about the story even though they try to rebut the charges as much as they can despite the fact they are saying a former Secretary of Defense is making it up, which is obvious hogwash considering Gates' strong reputation.

    January 7, 2014 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  14. Montana Forester

    Get us out of Afghanistan AND the sooner the Better. No place for the USA, it is a NO WIN in any aspect. Enough American soldiers/Marines etal have died or been wounded there. Time to cut our losses and come home. Look at Irag...the place has fallen into a mess and Afghanistan will too as soon as we are gone. I don't like Obama, he is a spineless, lying POS with no good intent for the USA and Americans. Wanna show some guts Obama...pull out of the desert ASAP.

    January 7, 2014 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  15. Max

    under Obama administration USA is humiliated around the world, this man doesn't have backbone , Obama is a real loser

    January 7, 2014 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  16. Realist

    This revelation ought not to be a shock to anyone. Look at the condition of the US (economy, high unemployment, etc...) and you'll see what (Obama's self-described) "leadership from behind" looks like.

    January 7, 2014 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  17. john

    What is our mission in Afghanistan? Does anybody know? Who hasn't lost "faith" in it, it is a waste of our men and resources. We all know it will just revert to what it was before. Gates is just another neo-con holdover from the Bush era anyway.

    January 7, 2014 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  18. deee510

    That's what Obama needs to do get out of Afghanistan. We need to mind America's business not being the police for the middle east.I think our president has the right ideas. Forget what this Gates guy talking about

    January 7, 2014 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  19. korkea aika

    Gates seems like a straight shooter and I like him. But to the critics of the President who will latch on to Gate's critisms to try to embarrace him, all I have to say is that Barack Obama did not declare MISSION ACCOMPLISHED after 6 weeks of a 7 year war with IRAQ and did not involve this great country in bloody wars based on lies & misinformation. GW WORST PRESIDENT EVER

    January 7, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  20. dastreagus

    Gates is not focusing enough on the finances. I say he should be honest with his objections. I'm not saying I think he didn't have a long list of complaints, but I'll remember him as a guy who refused to adapt to non military obligations. I'm happy with our consumer stocks this Christmas, while he is probably fuming over bindis and babas 6500 miles from New York. Amazon and UPS. They should mobilize our military efforts if we are ever unfortunate enough to engage another adversary. A big waaaa to the guys who don't manufacture anything, but limbless young men. Get back to Texas and make a radio that doesn't cut out in a tunnel.

    January 7, 2014 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  21. Bob

    Gee, a community organizer isn't qualified?

    January 7, 2014 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  22. fr114

    W started these wars and he can't even spell strategy, so now it's B O's war and he's to blame. yup, that makes sense if your head is way up your ....

    January 7, 2014 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  23. WritingOnTheWall

    (CNN) – President Barack Obama's administration is seeking allies outside of the White House to defend against criticism from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the President lost faith in his own Afghanistan policy.

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


    January 7, 2014 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  24. luvUamerica

    When will they learn to never have a Republican on your staff if you are a president who is a Democrat and not to have a Democrat on your staff if you are a Republican president. Those who say, I will do my job, even if the President is of a different party are lying. You know they are lying. Gates is a liar. Duh!! On the flip side, Gates prostituted himself and brought himself a few levels down in terms of trust, ethics and morals. He sold out to make some dough. At the end, it is all about money.

    January 7, 2014 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  25. Bill

    Ironic, isn't it, that so many Americans have lost faith in Obama's version of "leadership". Too bad we can't back out of that decision!!

    January 7, 2014 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
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