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. NW

    Please let me regurgitate right now! None of these individuals who were/are government employees at this level are permitted to write books without 'authorization' by the government less they spill government secrets. Just like with General Patraeus having an affair with his Biographer who was an NSA employee hired to write the Memoir for prosterity and history (the Governments version of events). Every Squadron in the United States has what is called a "historian" and it's his or her job to write and write and write...the Government's approved version. Open Your Eyes and don't waste your money!

    January 8, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  2. Jeff

    I think Gates should have called his book "Doody" instead of "Duty". It is a book full of crap to sell his book. I am sure there are some things within his memoir that actually happened and some of his assessments may well have some truth to them, but to air them in a book? Please. Low class. There are plenty of video tapes out there where the man is praising the very people he discredits in his book. At the least, he is a hypocrite. If he was so unhappy and appalled by what was going on, he should have resigned his post instead of continuing to live off the taxpayers. Again, he is no different than the celebrities who use the lowest denominator to sensationalize what was going on so that he can profit from it. To me, a book of this nature tarnishes what was up to now a seemingly respectful tour of public service.

    January 8, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  3. Vikachi

    Rep.Dem.all the same.pretending there not as thay play the game.hows that workin for us all here? just fine i guess as long as theres beer.split,devide,duck n hide,blame eacherother when both have lied,wag the dog n make the news.why'll 300 millon pay there dues,sing da blues.but left with only,of crooks to choose.

    January 8, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  4. Michael MN

    I lost faith in the Afgn policy the second we invaded Iraq , we went in to get those responible for 9-11 instead we are going on year 12

    January 8, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  5. Chuck

    I can see from the comments that this is a liberal and conservative issue as usual. As a moderate I did not care about Defense Secretary Gates assessment of the President or anyone else in the current adminstration. He is a republican, what does anyone expect him to say. Did he comment about President Bush in his book? I was wondering because President Bush was the one who hired him. in closing I would ask why in the world would a let a Republican assessment of the a Democratic president influence the way I vote? I will assess the job the President as done when the time comes, I need no help from the liberal or conservative media or anyone else to make up mind about any candidate for public office.

    January 8, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  6. Keith

    Government at its worst is on view every day. Our system has failed because we do not have honorable men serving us. Gates is a good man and I an glad he is telling us the truth.

    January 8, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  7. BeverlyNC

    This is the book of a coward who was in a position to DO something, SAY something, ADVISE something but instead sat silent and did NOTHING. Now he releases a skewed book of pure bitterness with very selected details to cause controversy to get people to buy a book they never would have otherwise.
    If Gates was so unhappy, so opposed to everything, why didn't he resign?
    Let's make sure Republicans don't leave out the scathing attack on them by Gates over their "phony, self-centered, and narrow-minded". Couldn't have said that better myself and the polls on Republican accomplishments for the People prove Gates right. 7% approve of the obstruction, filibustering, pass no legislation, attack the President and miss and hurt the People over and over, most do-nothing, least-in-session Congress Republicans.
    Of course President Obama would be discouraged the "surge" did not work for he has wanted to end this Bush war for a very long time and thought might help. His military command failed him. Now he is working just to get our troops out of a ridiculous war benefiting no one.
    How sad for Gates. A sorry public servant giving a chance to make a difference and all he did was nothing, walk away, and write the book of a bitter weak man.

    January 8, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  8. dave

    Obama – ended Iraq war, killed Bin Laden, saved auto industry, TARP has made a profit -– still he has not totally fixed the second worst economic disaster in our history - The Great Depression and the Great Recession, both ushered in by Republicans and ushered out by Democrats

    January 8, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  9. Really.

    Why is the truth called "blistering"? Obama is RIGHT to not believe in the Afghanistan Mission AND it was NOT started by him or his administration. It was Part 2 of an Unnecessary War (Iraq being Part 1) that the hawks – Cheney + Bush – initiated. His support of TROOPS but not the MISSION is shared by MOST Americans…so Gates, having come from the HAWKS who started the war would of course be angry about it. This isn't news…its just truth.

    January 8, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  10. under the radar

    Wow. Those tea party conservatives are out in force on these comments today.

    January 8, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  11. vjc

    Fox news will be jumping all over this. I am sure they will skip the tough criticism of the Congress..IE the GOP congress. America was sick of war..getting out was the best thing..and what they people wanted. Job well done!!

    January 8, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  12. dave

    So the President had doubts abut Petraeus?? "No one should trust that basterd Petraeus" signed, Mrs. Petraeus

    January 8, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  13. Sheila

    @Beverly in NC – you are SO right on this...Gates is and must be a bitter man....He sounds like this is his last way to make a huge amount of $$$$$ to write a book as this

    January 8, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  14. Liz

    Thank God for the Tea Party.

    January 8, 2014 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  15. tess

    FINALLY – the truth comes out !!! when a military man , sworn to protect our country and support our trooops has the guts to let the american people know exactly what kind of POS o'dumpo is, it underscores the seriousness of what is happening to our country, our standing in the world and the moral of our trooops. this SHOULD be grounds for IMPEACHMENT – it's pure and simple, deriliction of duty!! GOD BLESS GATES for shining light on this despicable administration.

    January 8, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  16. Pj

    I think Gates stayed at his post regardless of his internal opinion because he wanted to help protect the troops from a lousy administration and a horrible congress. Having deployed and been in the Afghanistan war, Congress has no clue what we do and how we do it. They just care about the photo ops and nothing else. At the next election, I suggest we vote for anyone who is not an incumbent.

    January 8, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  17. JohnAdams

    "...all about getting out"? Yep, sounds like a good strategy. But not for the military industrial complex and its financiers, though.

    January 8, 2014 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  18. m123

    Obama is a liar and incompetent
    What a shock

    January 8, 2014 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  19. john rosen

    This administration is going to rip him into shreds. They will not do it directly because their true colors would be exposed. I am also quite certain that Gates has other bombshells that could be made public except for security reasons.

    Gates is going to attacked from the outer perimeter so that it does not appear that the white house is involved. There is absolutely no reason for Gates to publish anything but facts. He is a distinguished public servant and revenue from the book will be peanuts compared to his net worth.

    January 8, 2014 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  20. Roy

    Hope he just reads the book to Chaney and Bush II.

    January 8, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  21. Monomachos

    OK folks, in order for all of us reading your assessments of the book it would be helpful to know if you have actually read it before drawing your conclusions. TIA.

    January 8, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  22. Vikachi

    JEFF D RIGGS is coming to help.--he will tell you the TRUTH of all the LIES.-Look for him

    January 8, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  23. Rudy NYC

    Rainywoman asked on page 12:

    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?
    As a general rule, Republicans tend to ignore and not comment on topics that cast them into a less than favorable light. The thinking is that talking about it will only give it more life. There is a saying in politicis that goes something like this.

    "If you are on the defending yourself, then you are losing the argument."

    January 8, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  24. JohnBrownII

    The crop is growing, and soon we will reap what Obama has sown. It's at least prudent for Gates to give us some insight as to why these things will happen when they do.

    January 8, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  25. Marcus (from...?)

    J-Man – '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.'

    And of course you'll vote for Gates for whatever he candidates himself to...
    But if we dare to disagree with what he says or how he says it we're all 'paid liars'...

    Could you be just a little less predictable?

    January 8, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
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