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. Anonymous

    "For him, it's all about getting out," Gates writes


    January 8, 2014 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  2. Sanders Kaufman

    The problem isn't about strategy – it's about goals.
    Warhawks simply do not want the war to end... ever.

    January 8, 2014 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  3. Richo

    Gates is a war monger just as Cheney and Rumsfield were. How many dead Americans and Afganis are acceptable to support a corrupt regime? Obviously Gates hasn't paid much attention to Iraq where instability still reigns at the expense of thousands dead and billions of American taxdollars wasted. Afganistan is a losing cause, as previously witnessed by the Russians. When the last American soldier leaves, the country will be taken over by the Taliban.

    January 8, 2014 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  4. Manuel Madera

    It is obvious, that this President, lacks the administrative knowledge to run any type of organization. It has been noted, in other writings, his dislike for the military. What else should we expect! But, Gates, if he felt this way, he should have said so, and should have resigned. Now he sounds like the other McNamara.

    January 8, 2014 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  5. Brian

    Funny that POTUS ran on a platform to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, takes office, gets handed to him US foreign policy in both these countries by the military commanders on the ground, and POTUS doesn't like it. And doesn't like Karzai, whom nobody likes except the oil men. And this is a controversy why? If anything, this speaks volumes as to who exactly is running this country. The military controls our foreign policy in the Middle East. I support our troops, because those poor bastards have to carry out the dirty work for their commanders. Military commanders, like Gates and Petraeus, are the ones not to be trusted. Ever. Ever since Korea has it been apparent that there is a separation in power within the US. The tail wags the dog here.

    January 8, 2014 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  6. sickofit

    I think a former cabinet member writing a tell-all book about an administration while the president is still in office is just dead wrong. The author has a complete lack of integrity. He does a disservice to the country he served.

    January 8, 2014 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  7. jharry

    Thinking American's must ask themselves, who do you believe? Van Jones, or Robert Gates? It's time for the neophytes to get out of town. I am so sick of those in charge today. If we do not boot them out, we are doomed.

    January 8, 2014 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  8. rafee

    whelp, he went in on everyone however President Obama agenda was always to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    January 8, 2014 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  9. dastreagus

    Gaits liked the role of telling his Generals to fire weapons at foes, and truly rejected outright the directors role of telling his Generals to fire military employees who were no longer needed.

    An honest book would be titled. Yin and Yang Bobby or Robert: My days in Command.

    Chapter 2: Breaking hearts is hard to do.

    January 8, 2014 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  10. Jimmy Graham

    The majority of Americans wanted President Obama to get our troops out of Afganistan like those Russians eventually got out of that quagmire..The job of the former defense secretary was to carry out the orders of the Commander in a Chief..Now this Republican is out to make a buck trying to diminish the office of this president.No surprise.No surprise.Again,no surprise..

    January 8, 2014 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  11. Gargelygoop

    They all are clueless and ignorant. End of story. Average and ambitious for the fail. Go team Losers.

    January 8, 2014 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  12. callmecrazy

    Coming from someone who believes that we should rule the world, yeah he is probably disappointed that we actually don't.

    January 8, 2014 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  13. futureman

    Rush Limbaugh, FOX News, and The Taliban thank MR Gates for the political ammunition. You made their day!

    January 8, 2014 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  14. Logictox

    The truth is a terrible thing.

    January 8, 2014 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  15. foxghostwriter

    I'm OK with this. Biden isn't the brightest bulb..shocker...Obama wasn't totally sold on Afghanistan.....neither am I. Congress sucks....total agreement....

    January 8, 2014 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  16. TheThinker

    Best article EVER.
    Congress serves itself, testimony is less about truth and more about posing for TV cameras, the Prez and Secretary of State play politics with what the war strategy should be. And with all the damning insight, the White House says "that info doesn't damage our base", which is the biggest shocker. A bunch of mindless zombies adoring anything that a person does simply because he is in their party. That's not democracy, that's fascism.

    January 8, 2014 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  17. Abbey

    Obama was elected to get out and wave the white flag. We can now see how that's playing out all over the world.

    January 8, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  18. bcrunner

    Based on Gate's assessment, I would vote for this president again. The military does not like when the president questions them. Good for the president for questions everyone? including Patreus....Isn't he the one who had the affair while in command? Maybe the president was aware of it and didn't trust him....

    January 8, 2014 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  19. beezers

    I don't think Gates wrote anything that we didn't know about nor anything overly critical of the president. Is it really a surprise that the President and Hillary Clinton let politics guide their election criticisms of the surge, or that the President distrusts the military and his foreign policy is simply non-interventionist? I don't believe the president is perfect at his job, nor do I think he needs to be perfect. I actually see his dislike of Karzai as refreshing. Rather than scrambling to accept any laudable remarks (like Gates' mention of the President's push to get Bin Laden) while denying anything perceived as a criticism (which just shows politics back in play),the President and his administration should simply emrace Gates' memoir as an honest opinion of one man who faithfully executed his job while not agreeing with every motivation or action of the President (because that's obviously never to be expected of anyone who isn't merely a butt-kisser).

    January 8, 2014 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  20. bcrunner

    By the way, did you hear about the comments he made about the two war mongers Linsday and McCain? He didn't mention them by name, but you know whom he was talking about... There is no conflict they don't want to get in... We know the president during the time he took to make his decision about the surge in Afghanistan questioned EVERYBODY! And, good for him... How right were they about anything???

    January 8, 2014 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  21. Anonymous

    Obama is a great campaigner and a terrible president

    January 8, 2014 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  22. James

    Loyalty in politics..... NOT!!!!! Disappointed in Gates..... should have been man enough to say something when he was in office....

    January 8, 2014 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  23. don in albuquerque

    Gates just wants another 15 minutes of fame so he can maybe get on "Dancing With The Stars".

    January 8, 2014 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  24. CALiberal

    That's what you get when you hire a republican. A lot of bad mouth when you are not around.

    January 8, 2014 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  25. Lou

    If anyone thought winning a war in Afghanistan or even Iraq was going to have a happy ending, or any kind of ending....they are delusional. Our President voted against those wars in the first place; he had little choice but to see them through. Of course they are a failure. Thank goodness he's not like Bush, "Mission Accomplished".....yeah, right!

    January 8, 2014 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
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