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. beevee

    Gates is after all a republican and was an appointee of President Bush. He should have resigned when President Obama (the democratic president) took office. Getting out of Afghanistan is waht the entire nation wanted after killing Bin Laden. His criticism of the President in his book seems like a ploy that the GOP could use in the upcoming elections. I have lost all respect for Robert Gates.

    January 8, 2014 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  2. thomas

    "For him, it was all about getting out." and "Gates also questioned the President's support of the troops' mission in Iraq." I'd say that sums up how the majority of Americans felt and still feel. What is Gates proposing, that our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were some kind of success? Iraq is about to fall apart. Again. And as soon as we and our drones leave, Afghanistan will. Again. I'd say Bush wasted countless dollars and lives, and thank God someone had enough sense to be "all about getting out".

    January 8, 2014 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  3. thomas

    Lou45.... and Bush did know how to run a war?

    January 8, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  4. Jasper

    Well, we all knew that David Plouffe, Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod direct President Obama's actions on a day to day basis. But who directs these three amigos - Penny Pritzker or someone like that? It is odd that no one is curious about that.

    January 8, 2014 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  5. Abbey

    So "Getting out" makes the nation safe huh? Bravo Mr. Gates for exposing the Liberal agenda!

    January 8, 2014 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  6. Sergeant

    Gates is a joke. He makes it all too obvious that this is a politically motivated attack, right before the 2014 and 2016 elections. Otherwise, if he were so loyal to the troops, why did he not say anything in "real time" as he and the president were discussing these matters? What a clown this Gates, good riddance.

    January 8, 2014 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  7. kiwisepp

    there is no winning way in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just get out of conflicts over there. In this point , I think, President is right.

    January 8, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  8. Sergeant

    What does he say of bush? So far I have yet to hear anything on the matter and the country knows there's a lot more failed defense policies under bush than any other president in history.

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

    Not like he's saying anything people didn't already know. Is there anyone who thinks Obama's foreign policy has been successful?

    January 8, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  10. M.Miller

    The timing of Gate's book is perfectly in line with the 2014 mid-terms in which the GOP/Tea Party are going to be spanked, and the early start of Hillary's Presidential run. The GOP strategy, since they cannot get their own party in line, is to try to break up the Democratic base by chipping away at support for Obama and Hillary. Divide and conquer—what a confused bunch of sore losers.

    January 8, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  11. curtegg

    Bcrunner, I have a bridge for you to buy. Sure military has clashes with civilian control. Obama sure followed a lot of Bush policies (bailing the bankers out, spying on US citizens, surge in Afghanistan). Obama will be known as the president that "Led from behind". Look at his own inconsistencies between his policies between Libya and Syria. Look at his inability to compromise like Reagan did (btw: sequester was his own party's idea). Look at his own blatant lies of the ACA. Let's face it Obama will be known as a politician and not a real statesman. B. Gates took the time to write personal letters to all servicemen families that were killed in those wars. You wouldn't see Obama doing that! He's too busy transforming America to a shadow of itself. B. Gates was a true statesman.

    January 8, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  12. cjb

    Getting "out" of Afghanistan is the most dangerous decision to the United States ever made. We had some control over the growth of Al Quaeda in Afghanistan but we will be under attack again like 9/11 once we retreat. Even Obama knew that when he took office – how dangerous it is. You don't just get to go home and expect everything to be all good. That is a very childish understanding of the world and particularly the middle east.

    January 8, 2014 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  13. David Major

    This overthrowing governments, free the middle east, world police strategy has gotten us TRILLIONS in debt and costs thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of innocents lives. The military spends 700 billion a year and we give 300 billion to other countries. We are 18 trillion in debt and we continue to give other countries money!! How stupid are the people in DC!!

    January 8, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  14. bgg1175

    Obama thinks he should know facts about us, so who cares if this guy tells facts about Obama?

    January 8, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  15. Econ301

    Based on this I like Gates more then ever.

    I am a Liberal, but his points are valid. However for people calling this an "Obama" disaster, I guess you missed the part where he called out Congress for what they really are.

    I wouldn't use the person who disses Obama some but also 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." to show how bad Obama is.

    January 8, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  16. msennett

    As a member of the military under Pres Obama, Bush, etc., I'm dissapointed in Mr. Gates. I don't believe his not entitled to his opinion.....he clearly is. But his access based on his position gave him inside knowledge of priveliged conversations the he KNOWS were not for public consumption.

    I expected more of him. For all his complaints about the executive and legislative branch's, he is clearly no better.

    January 8, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  17. EldRick

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

    That is one of the funniest things I've ever heard. Biden is a useless clown, and if the O thinks he's a statesman, that only reflects on the guy who chose him.

    January 8, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  18. Frank S

    If POTUS civilian advisors knocked down the Afghanistan strategy by constantly bringing him bad news, what good news was Gates able to bring to offset that? There wasn't any as I recall. Al quaeda continues to operate from safe haven in Pakistan, Karzai top people are corrupt, you have green on blue murders, Karzai himself slams the US for domestic political points. Where is the payoff for continuing the war? Obama is correct in drawing down, that is not a failure of strategy, it is an evolution of stragtegy. Get over it.

    January 8, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  19. jojo

    Agree with you completely NorCalMojo. Shocking when someone like Gates says it.

    January 8, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  20. sly

    Makes me appreciate President Obama even more:

    "Obama can't stand Karsai" – Either can I.
    "Obama lost confidence in Bush's Afghanistan war" – Duh, only a dummy or a Republican invades Afghanistan.

    What we do know: President Obama killed America's #1 enemy, overthrew Khadafy, and prevented massive war in Syria. Best Foreign Policy President in 30 years.

    January 8, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  21. Name

    I think the book needs to be read first, as this is a left website by nature. The whole story is therefore biased. Whether or not it is right, it will need to be judged on an individual level

    January 8, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  22. Name meat

    No surprise here. Bobo'Foreign Policies are as disastrous as his domestic ones are.

    January 8, 2014 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  23. Paul

    So do you think this Gates will also be brought up on charges of leaking information about the president????? Time for a new executive order.......

    January 8, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  24. stingerhp

    Welcome to the real world Mr. Gates.. We all knew this long, long ago.. Good to see you are opening your eyes.. Now to get the rest of the people out there to open theirs.. And Van Jones, really ??

    January 8, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  25. Mike

    beevee, when someone stands up and disagrees with policy and/or politics, regardless of political party, it should be just that... all Americans are fed up with the lies and promises our political leaders spew out day after day. Since I am retired military, it should be a requirement for all political leaders (white house, congress, etc) to serve in the military or attend a war college in residence. They are all lawyers and have no clue, repeating mistakes after mistake (Not just Bush).

    January 8, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
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