January 7th, 2014
07:07 PM ET
8 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. ken mertz

    Seems only fair for someone to give their professional opinion of the President. He has no problem giving his opinion of the Conservatives, Tea Party and anyone that opposes his agenda.

    January 8, 2014 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  2. geraldine

    anyone with anyone brains including Mr Gates that would give Iraq or Afghanistan any serious thought, would know that to try and change cultures thousands of years old would be dismal failures...so Mr Gates you are guilty as anyone else in this mockery ....

    January 8, 2014 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  3. Bootsie Randolph

    So much for that experiment in bi-partisan government. Obama just ended up with a weasel in his chicken-house. Better dump a bunch of republican generals too. Don't believe Obama OR the American People can trust them.

    January 8, 2014 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  4. Happy New Year!

    Thank you, Mr. Gates - most of us already knew of Obama's "limitations," to put it mildly.

    January 8, 2014 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  5. Get used to IT tea potty! 3 more yrs to spew ur hate @Obama

    Dishing on your former boss huh? This shows more about Gates character than anything else....no wonder he fell & bumped his head recently. Robert Gates must be losing his mind already!!!!

    January 8, 2014 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  6. geraldine

    what we tried to accomplish was destine for failure....Afghanistan and Iraq are ancient cultures with religious conflicts going back thousands of years and we thought we were going to go marching in and change things! the American people have no faith in this ....mockery of wars....its like trying to keep water in a colander....won't happen....so this actually makes President Obama look pretty intelligent!

    January 8, 2014 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  7. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    "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."
    ------------------------------------------------
    Yes. We have a name for a person that does this.
    I'm sure you do too.
    Shameful.
    I can only imagine what he would have said if he DID NOT respect or get along with THIS President.
    Enough already my fellow Americans of the disrespect. The rest of the world is flabbergasted by our unprecedented boorishness towards a SITTING President.
    On the other hand his assessment of Congress was frame worthy.

    January 8, 2014 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  8. tv22

    Typical second term blues. The rats get off the sinking ship and then take shots at it as it goes down. The problem for Obama is that this is the guy that was so credible and above reproach.

    January 8, 2014 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  9. TonyInNYC

    “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.” - Robert Gates

    January 8, 2014 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  10. cuisinemanager

    A truly transparent government would not care too much about negative press. They would be so busy implementing good ideas to get the economy back on track that people would focus on those efforts instead of the words of one man.

    January 8, 2014 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  11. Friends

    It is true Obama has failed.

    January 8, 2014 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  12. Susan

    There is a truth to be told and no one likes hearing that they are wrong or out of step. This true in Washington and every other walk of life. A real leader is humble and not self serving. Those you are called to lead need to be more important than your own cause and image. The "love of image" is a weakness.

    January 8, 2014 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  13. greg

    Gates seems like the level-headed, intelligent one from both the Bush and Obama administrations. I have to believe what he is saying...especially about Congress. Good for Gates for calling it like he sees it. Our congressional (House and Senate) leaders blow.

    January 8, 2014 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  14. Mistress

    This is all laughable since those in the know know that the world and foreign policy are controlled by others and not those in the White House. The White House et al answers to those in control. Best Gates settle back into retirement and keep his comments to himself or else. Oh that's right, he just injured his neck in a fall on New Years Day so best to do as I mentioned. 😉

    January 8, 2014 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  15. Keane

    Can't fault Obama and Hillary for not being enthusiastic about war. They aren't tone deaf to The People of this country.

    GATES WRITES ABOUT CONGRESS:

    "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."

    January 8, 2014 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  16. Anonymous

    It is a fact, that Mr. Obama's lack of administrative knowledge, has taken the country on a very difficult path. Now, it is up to the parties, to come up with capable candidates, regadless of the colors, who can truly manage this giant corporation.

    January 8, 2014 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  17. Tom Trouve

    Mr. Gates you are part of the very problem you are yelling about. Why not say these things while in office to their faces. Why not resign then if you "truely detest this job." You do a job you detest and then point fingers everywhere except your way. Lost all respect for you!

    January 8, 2014 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  18. Whatever123

    How long until Gates states his intention to run for Presidency?

    Seriously – getting out of those messes (Iraq, Afghanistan) was President Obama's plan all along you dope. The American public is sick of playing world policeman...

    January 8, 2014 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  19. sonny chapman

    Obama,upon taking office, reluctantly, backed the U.S. Military plan for Afghanistan for a "Surge". Biden opposed this & wanted a Pull Out, leaving Special Ops. The Military wanted a "Save Face" Strategy. Obama gave in to the Top Brass guys. He should've listened to Biden.

    January 8, 2014 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  20. CJ

    The President supported the troops as Gates said and the President as Commander In Chief gets to decide what the mission is. The mission can and did change. The President has the right to change the mission and I don't like all the boots on the ground. I prefer having an Air Force presence and allowing Iraq and Afghanistan (troops) to fight with the boots on the ground and if they need help we can bomb targeted areas and help them with finding the terrorists with technology we have.

    January 8, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  21. CoryT

    None of us believe in the war strategy...ANY war strategy. Where has it taken us?

    January 8, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  22. katincal

    ... Congress," a body he describes as phony, self-centered and narrow-minded. That pretty much sums things up for me!

    January 8, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  23. What a waste!

    Almost every sane American has lost faith in Obama, and his policies. So why is it so hard to understand that Obama has lost faith in himself?

    January 8, 2014 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  24. CoryT

    And really? All you have to do is think something and that makes it true? "And I thought to myself...Gates is an idiot, Republicans want more war, and Hilary will be our next Prez." Huh, is all of that true now?

    January 8, 2014 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  25. Jennifer NY

    Not news. These types of comments have been trickling out for a few years now, added to the behavior of our Commander in Chief. I am disgusted by, but not surprised by these comments. Apparently, Mr. Obama has been firing top military commanders since he began. Mr. Gates is a standup guy. Of course, the WH will attack him.

    January 8, 2014 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
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