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. Clyde

    Sounds like Gates is thinking about running for President.

    January 8, 2014 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  2. The Truth Hurts

    Gates speaks the truth,and the liberal lap dogs fall all over themselves trying to discredit a guy who has served every president, Democrat or Republican, since Nixon in some form or fashion. From what I have seen, he didn't really reveal anything about any of the major players that is not already known.

    January 8, 2014 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  3. I R Amazed

    To everyone opining that Obama should have never had any Republican in his cabinet, I give you SecTrans Ray LaHood.
    He did everything he could to try and get his fellow Republicans to commit to rebuilding this nation's infrastructure and create a million new construction jobs as well as advocating for high speed rail projects to bring our rail system into the 21st Century.

    January 8, 2014 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  4. Thomas Diemer

    If he is telling the truth, it is not disloyal.

    January 8, 2014 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  5. YUCK

    after all it's only his stupid opion.

    January 8, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  6. Mike

    sly, remind me on who voted again for Bush's war...

    January 8, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  7. Dan

    How many of you have an actual understanding of government, politics, economics, and foreign affairs; seriously? Is it a hobby, something you have studied, or something you listen to to forget how much you hate your reality? How many of you are qualified to give a solid opinion about these matters? If you believe you are, your comments will be level headed and contain no insults, or partisan BS. The more you parrot what you watch and listen to, the more inclined I am to believe that you have no idea what you are talking about. These issues are complex and have happened over an extended period of time. When someone compares deficit spending to balancing a checkbook, I know you are full of hot air.

    January 8, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  8. Mark Francis

    Good for Robert Gates. It's about time people know how things really are in the White House and Capitol Hill. I applaud him for releasing this while Obama is still in office. Maybe it will do some good. Hillary is disgusting and Biden is an idiot, but we already knew that.

    January 8, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  9. NYKnows

    Gates is the worst kind of disgruntled ex-employee – the type that wants to be the judge and jury of former employers. And he is using a profit-making tool – a book deal – to do that. Let's face it, Afghanistan was started by Bush/Cheney to reap profits for the billionaires who bought them the White House – remember, they lost the 2000 election and we all know it. This book is reprehensible, and no one with common sense will spend any time or money on it. My guess is that Gates wants a well paid job at Fox "News" and this book is his job application. It's not about truth or history or anything other than cash, and any nasty nonsense to get his goal is fine by him. Question: Why is it that no one in the Bush2 administration has any integrity or respect for the American people? How did that happen? Guess the fish was really rotten, right from the top.

    January 8, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  10. Candy

    Axelrod is squirming. His recollection is confusing and he looks confused. Some savant will match the events up. Poor Obama got stuck with a Axelrod and others he surrounded himself with, who can't let go of the past and see the future.

    January 8, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  11. Bashful59

    Shucks, Gates isn't telling us anything that we don't know already. However, I do really like the Wacko moniker, it actually fits old obammy!! The guy really is a wacko plus he's starting to really go down the drain...........actually the toilet drain, where 'stuff' like him usually goes.

    January 8, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  12. I R Amazed

    During the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK never trusted his military commanders.
    And with good reason. Curtis LeMay would have started WWIII given half a chance.
    Many times there is good reason to not trust the military commanders.
    As for Afghanistan, history shows again and again how the Afghan people distrust any and every outsider and want all of them gone. For them it has nothing to do with politics, it's all about Afghan xenophobia first and foremost. Has any great power ever actually conquered Afghanistan and remade that country permanently in their vision?

    January 8, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  13. GOP = Greed Over People

    Use the same excuse Ailes uses to dismiss the tell-all about him, it is all the work of a "disgruntled employee".

    No further discussion needed.

    January 8, 2014 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  14. Bashful59

    Actually, this is probably one of the absolute BEST times to get this book out, let's embarrass this crook right now, let's stick it to him and hit him where it hurts, just like he's done to so many already. I want to see this slug to really squirm, and I want people to see this jerk for what and who, he really is. People made one huge mistake by voting this idiot into office, and now they're reaping what they have sown. I'm lovin' it!!!

    January 8, 2014 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    i think the quotes show how hard it was to end these wars; (the old "listening to the generals" means keep fighting).
    and yet he did it; that to me, is great leadership.

    January 8, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  16. Future

    Obama chose Gates because he knew that Gates was the best man for the job..Now that the truth of how the Obama Administration , Hillary , handled things comes out they are all heading for cover but they cannot hide from the truth..The liberal medina will try and bury or distort the truth , that's the democrat way...

    January 8, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  17. Mistro

    President Obama – empty suit

    January 8, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  18. Lone wolf

    Gates just lost any credibility he may have ever had. The President made a mistake thinking he could trust a republican appointee of Bush. Here we have a back stabbing right winger who could not wait once. He was no longer in the position to play right Wing politics. That being said, one can only take what he says with a grain of salt.

    January 8, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  19. old professor

    After all, Gates is a Republican. Enough said!

    January 8, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  20. Vikachi

    Yes,no,maybe so.stay go, I don't know.you,me,us,them,truth,lies,lets do it again.good,bad,happy,sad,wrong,right,run,fight,live,die,laugh,cry.but in the end we all see why.win,lose,billon,trillon,1% vs 300millon.love,hate,pitter,patter,and in the end. quote,"MISSION ACOMPLISHED" & "WHAT DOSE IT MATTER"

    January 8, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  21. rk

    i think the quotes show how hard it was to end these wars; (the old "listening to the generals" means keep fighting).
    and yet he did it; that to me, is great leadership.

    January 8, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  22. Blue

    Who is Gates, just another GOP holdover? This book was in the back of his mind from the beginning, and sales are better if you can trash someone. The GOP will do everything that they can do to hurt this man or the country. The American people will surely not fall for this book of garbage.

    January 8, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  23. Christian Grey

    I hate SoundOff, you can see so many lies that people get away with because there is no way to reply to their statements. There is no debate over a topic just statements...well maybe that's what CNN wants NO DEBATE

    January 8, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  24. J-Man

    I always liked Secretary Gates and believe him to be an honest, patriotic & honorable man. What is sad is now, Obama's paid liars will come out and attack Gates as a person. Obama won't do it personally because it will make him look bad (as mentioned above) however he will have people that work for him and other Democrats do it for him. What needs to happen is for people to read the book and see what can be learned. Many of us already knew these things about Obama, Clinton, Biden and Congress. All a bunch of self serving liars. I have no doubt that they will put troops lives in danger for their own personal gain. Benghazi ring any bells. What we need is a President who values the lives of Americans first (as far as the military is concerned) and puts the best interest of Americans before the rest of the world and his political aspirations. Seems like a no brainer to me. I just don't know how many selfless, principled politicians we have any more.

    January 8, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  25. drp146

    So, a Republican slams the President. No surprise there, it's all they do. Got to question his loyalty to the President he served. If he was so unhappy, he should've just resigned

    January 8, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
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