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. tm1946

    Nothing new here. Demos say just another nutty Rep. White House, well do not believe much they say anyway. Politicians being politicians.

    It this guy was so full of truth and the American way, why did he not resign and publically tell us what was going on, he chose to write a book instead, any one question his motives.

    January 8, 2014 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  2. Richard Right

    Gates seems to portray Obama as similar to LBJ, not committed to win the wars. Just wanting to look concerned.

    January 8, 2014 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  3. Jack

    All these show & tell book are just what they are, one persons perspective and nothing more. They provide fodder for the sea of critic's out there that make money doing nothing useful.

    January 8, 2014 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  4. Reggie

    Rattles who? SOMEONE SURPRISED? Those who pretend not to know what Obama was about BEFORE he became President, as if by a magic touch he is all of a sudden a different person...read his earlier works, watch videos of his speeches and see who his friends were and are....PRETENDER HE IS and the CONGRESS with him...SHAME

    January 8, 2014 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  5. Hex

    What nonsense. If Obama wanted to end the war when he came in...he should have. All he has to do is give a speech and say the word. Just say I want to end what Bush started because it's pointless and doesn't help us.

    January 8, 2014 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  6. jeff van wieren

    Hillary and Barack discussing how to spin the war in their favor, sickening and just trashy. We can do better people.

    January 8, 2014 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  7. sense4sure

    Today Truth is whatever you want it to be. Everyone seems to turn their head to the things they dislike and focus on the things they like. History will show how this all plays out. As far as being political I would hope that everyone agrees that everyone in Washington considers that their first priority, getting reelected is what comes first, country falls somewhere after that. President Obama is the king of politics and I believe that we have no idea of what is really going on. Congress is just a bunch of idiots that are playing along, both parties. I would tend to Believe Gates way before any elected person, since he has nothing to gain from this, at least at this point.

    January 8, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  8. Budley

    We need to get out of Iraq and AFG.All the time and lives spent there were wasted same as Vietnam.

    January 8, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  9. Getting Old

    Hayden said Obama disagrees with Gates' assessment of Biden and hailed the Vice President as "one of the leading statesmen of his time." I hope they legalize marijuana soon, so I can get some of the excellent stuff the President is smoking.

    January 8, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  10. Deac

    Everyone already knew this, except the ones that are in love with this president and couldn't or wouldn't believe the truth if it hit them in the face

    January 8, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  11. Rainywoman

    Just asking, but why is it that every example of Gates criticism of Obama was followed by a defense of Obama by someone on his team, and yet Gates' scourging of the Republican Congress is presented without rebuttal? Was comment even invited let alone actively sought in the interest of fair reporting?

    January 8, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  12. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    "I" have "MY"...... Priorities

    Planned Parenthood OBAMACARE "navigators" MUST
    be paid FIRST.

    Death benefit for widow and children of a Unites States Marine
    killed in action....

    Ahhh..... Ummm......
    Can wait until the government shutdown is over.

    WE.... MUST... Make it hurt!!!

    Did "I" Not TELL you that "I" am an AWESOME Commander in Chief !!!

    TRUST "ME"
    "I" am NOT a liar !!!

    January 8, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  13. meat

    No surprise here.

    January 8, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  14. Veritas

    Funny...48 hours ago EVERYBODY agreed that Gates was the best Defense Secretary since WWII. He has a sterling record for intelligence, integrity and dedication. Then...he tells America the truth about Obama...and WOW...the Liberals who were praising him two days ago turn on him and contradict everything they have been saying about him for two decades.

    Telling, so very telling...

    January 8, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  15. Tim

    As a Military Veteran is it any surprise that a Liberal President did not trust the Military.

    January 8, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  16. Cameron

    CNN, even with the reporting of this article you are seeking to dampen the blow to the administration by focusing primarily on the criticisms of congress rather then the much more profound criticisms of the President and Vice President. Even softening the criticisms that were actually written so that they do not seem as criticle. CNN, please report fairly, I beg of you stop supporting the liberal agenda and consistently defending their political views while over criticizing conservatives.

    January 8, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  17. rad666

    Gates better join Snowden in Russia.

    January 8, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  18. Dave

    Glad to see CNN once again defending the left at all cost including journalistic neutrality and integrity. It simply cannot not accept honest criticism without jumping to defend each point made by Gates. This article was written with the sole I intent of defending the current administration. Here's a news flash for CNN, The President is not always correct and he is mist certainly not always honest and forthright! Obama cares about Obama, the democratic party, his voting base (public unions, illegal immigrants and public aid recipients) then the rest of the citizens...in that order.

    January 8, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  19. bmw4re

    Probably published by Koch Brothers Publishing. Gates seems to have a bad case of Snowden-envy.

    January 8, 2014 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  20. Dave

    The house of cards is falling and this administration will no doubt go down as the most distrusted, disorganized, corrupt, in inept administration on record. It starts with a POTUS that hides his past, hides the past of his wife, is totally unprepared for the office, distrusts those around him that know what is going on and gets rid of anyone that has a different view of policy and results. He is purging our top military commanders who know how were schooled in how to wage war, have waged war, have proven themselves over and over again, and are disgusted with the lack of leadership from the top. We have had no improvement in our economy over the last 5 years, to dollar has fallen in value against almost every currency in the world, our national credit rating has been down graded, or allies question us as we have become the laughing stock of the world. The Obama administration killed NASA and the advances they made to make our lives better. Last by not least, this administration has brought racism to the top of the pot again where it is fully in the face of everyone. Now as those who voted for him begin to see the utter failure the man is, both in his own family as he panders with another woman, we must suffer under the socialistic ideology he forces to step to while violating the very oath he took to defend the Constitution of the United States of America from all foreign and domestic enemies. I can only pray to God that he does not succeed in destroying the USA in his last 3 years in office.

    January 8, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  21. BSH

    Congress is incompetent? Who would have guessed? If only we could cleanse that nest of vipers, purge every one of them from the public purse and body politic. Political parties should be banned entirely.

    January 8, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  22. Mr. Moderate

    Just sounds like another Republican chicken hawk upset that the president was not as enthusiastic about sending young Americans into harms way to enrich his defense contractor patrons.

    January 8, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  23. VJ

    I have a question, why he didn't mentioned anything what Bush did??? He should have focused on that as well.

    January 8, 2014 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  24. davecu

    The King's new clothes are utterly delightful.
    Queen Hillary, not so much.

    January 8, 2014 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  25. Jim

    Yes, I would vote again – as civilians, we control the military, we control our elected officials, and we should question everything they do.

    January 8, 2014 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
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