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. Boo

    I will say this...I agree with Gates' assessment of those parasites in Congress.

    January 8, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  2. Some Guy

    Beautiful is what this book will probably be. Gates is basically calling out Washington for being the den of **** that it is.

    January 8, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  3. citizen5

    I believe Mr Gates is expressing the truth. Politicians (i.e. the President and Congress) are politicians. They do and say what is going to get them elected. Todays liberal has been elected by promising just about everything to everybody. Today, the democrats will not say "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". Instead, they simply pander to their constituents. It appears that getting the average American hooked on the welfare train is the goal.

    January 8, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  4. musclecar61

    It's amazing how the truth hurts! Sadly we have the worst President and Vice President in history and both men will be remembered for the absolutely terrible leadership over their 8 years in office and for leading this great nation to ruin.

    January 8, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  5. kiwisepp

    I think, Mr.gates is totally wrong. To pull ourselves out of Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible by whatever way is the wish of most American people. Our president just did what we wanted, right.

    There is no winning way for us there.

    January 8, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  6. steven

    I don't see issues with Gate's book. I do think it is refreshing to hear from someone republican/democrat about how they viewed the government. I think the worse part is the simply fact congress above all else is ineffective needs to be completely overhauled.

    January 8, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  7. ram

    A real strong courageous man, leader, civil servant would have spoke their mind in real time

    January 8, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  8. You say what

    Gates should have understood his job better. His position called for him to speak his opinion, not hold it back, it was his role to present his points of view. Apparently he thought he should just keep everything to himself, nod his head in agreement, and then keep notes so he could write a book later. He has a history of saying one thing about a situation and then flip flopping on it later. I am waiting to see how he get's on television and tells everyone they took it all out of context.

    January 8, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  9. citizen5

    The one thing that the Obama administration excels at is propoganda. The Obama propoganda team rivals the Nazi propogandists of the late 1930's. As identified in the article, "White House officials have been in meetings on the issue and were reaching out to allies to defend the President against the claims." So, let's see how the propoganda team reacts.

    January 8, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  10. dinkydow

    So, where is the news here? Gates confirms: Biden is the court jester. Clinton and Obama lied about their reasoning on the surge in Iraq. And, Obama was never in it to win it in the "right war", Afghanistan.

    Anybody that didn't already know that, just isn't paying attention.

    January 8, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  11. Educate Yourselves

    Wow – just a few days ago all of the usual liberal suspects were falling all over themselves complimenting the man when he was hurt in a fall....how honest he was, etc......suddenly, when he says something they don't like, he is an idiot/liar/fool/....fill in the blank. Amazing!

    January 8, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  12. kiwisepp

    President did not believe that we could win the war. His purpose to send in our troop is to pull ourselves out. Mr. gates , did you really think that we can win the war.

    Our president did exactly what American people wnated.

    January 8, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  13. Carly

    It is shameful to be disloyal to a sitting president. Gates should have been honest with Obama when he was asked if he would continue his post. that didn't not happen. Once you accept an appointment you are to serve to the best of your ability. Keeping his true feeling to himself was not the best he could have done. He has not been a true patriot. What was he so afraid of? Could it be he planned this book and knew he would sell a lot more copies if he could continue with all the Obama bashing? Could all of this be an outrageous attempt to sell more books? However, I do agree with his statements about Congress BUT he should have had the courage to tell them they are idiots. I thought he was a brave and patriotic American until this morning when I found out how wrong I had been. He is just like so many in our government whose true intentions are always self-serving. Very disappointing as usual.

    January 8, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  14. Erick Holmes

    I don't really know if Gate's word can be trusted. They said last night that he says one thing, then does another. So, I don't know.

    January 8, 2014 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  15. MNClownfactory

    I think critique of this administration from the Secretary is warranted and refereshing. Let's remember two things frist. 1 Military personnel are by training not good at questioning authority or countering it while on Duty. 2. A General is at the top of the food chain and is not used to being quesionted in a pesonal manner by anyone.

    Taking these two points in to account, I think his points are valid and needed to reflect on future presidents and congresses. Lesson's learned 1. Dont start stupid wars that historically show are so costly to win that it isn't worth the investment. 2. A congress that micromanages the budget and is so willing to contradict themselves with no fear of stain on their character are not worthy to represent the U.S.

    I am an Obama supporter, Iraq NEVER should have been attackted and Bush should have gone in to Afghanistan first and put all resources in to winning the real fight against those who helped train the 911 bombers. Instead he invested everything for 6 yrs in to Iraq, leaving Afghanistan as the secondary front instead of primary. Then he handed his broken stupid strategey over to Obama. I do not blame Obama for not wanting out of the mess created by Bush.

    January 8, 2014 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  16. dwileyone

    My advice to the White House ... IGNORE IT!!! The more you respond, the more you give credibility to the opinions. Move on and do your job!!!

    January 8, 2014 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  17. joe

    welcome to year 6 of the Amateur President

    January 8, 2014 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  18. Mancee Grayce

    Expect to see Gates's smug, fat face on faux news any minute now. He, Newt, Huckabee, Palin, and Cheney could start a think tank called Disgraced Incredible Traitors.

    January 8, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  19. Bobilino

    That Biden quote is priceless. How do you really feel?

    January 8, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  20. John

    phony, self-centered and narrow-minded – I thought that was the perfect description of obama.

    January 8, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  21. Saboth

    Sounds like Obama had a huge mess on his hands left to him by the Republican President and Republican Congress, and there were no easy ways to fix all of those problems caused by Republicans (crashed economy, housing market, stock market, multiple trillion dollar wars, irresponsible tax cuts that created a 1 trillion per year deficit that Obama inherited).

    January 8, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  22. pjoe

    Much ado about nothing. President Obama has his faults. Get over it.

    January 8, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  23. krivka

    I don't see the problem. The President distrusted Petraeus and should have. As for supporting the mission, what exactly was the mission? He does support the troops and also distrusts Karzai. WHO DOES trust him? I think Gates served both Presidents well and he has a right to write a book, but he is nothing but a Republican trying to score some points for his party and to make a few bucks for himself.

    January 8, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  24. Anonymous

    More confirmation that this is THE WORST PR*SIDENTIAL ADMINSTRATION IN AMERICAN HISTORY. They should all be in PRISON!!!!

    January 8, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  25. dave

    "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." - anyone who does not doubt the ability of an outside nation to change Afghanistan does not know history

    January 8, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
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