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. Teri

    I think this book is written to make money, why else does anyone write a book????????? Does anyone in the government tell the truth? "No". We need to be intelligent enough to see what happens in the world around us and use our thoughts and feelings about it to make decisions. Politicians are not to be trusted any more and if the American people haven't figured that out yet then there is something very wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And just another note, Fox news is not the only source of news available but they are watched by people that like to hear grown people argue and be rude to each other and act like children". This News channel is what I personally feel has hurt this country, as those watchers used to be free thinkers and now they no longer are. It is a sad world we live in now but we got ourselves there and only we can get ourselves out.

    January 8, 2014 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  2. drrichard

    During the Vietnam debacle there were honorable people who quit high positions because they wanted no part of a preventable war that would end in defeat. As far as I can tell this man did nothing to stop the bloodshed, or at least wash his hands of it.

    January 8, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  3. Zeke

    Is anyone surprised by the revelations? It fits the view of Obama all Americans are now familiar with. Everything is political, not leadership. This man should have stayed as a community advisor since he has no leadership skills.

    January 8, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  4. tet1953

    He talks about Obama being all about getting out (of Afghanistan) like it's a bad thing.

    January 8, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  5. john

    Gate's is a man of considerable integrity and has served multiple administrations, so he can speak with authority and in doing so he has exposed this administration for what we thought it was all along.

    January 8, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  6. Irrational Exuberance

    "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."

    So the expectation of a " former White House official" was that Gates should have been telling people other than the President his concerns about the President, while he was working for the President. So he figures officials should go around talking about their boss behind their back.

    His opinions of Congress seem spot on. Congressional hearings are more entertainment than investigation. Used to produce sound bites, not substantive work.

    January 8, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  7. sly

    The Republicans continue to commit poltiical suicide.

    Christie just went down – toast, see ya later. Watergate II.

    Who the TeaBillieRepublicans going to run for President now that Christie is gone? Big Ear Racist Cruz?

    January 8, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |

    OBAMA CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH. Neither can democrats in general.

    January 8, 2014 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  9. Rudy NYC


    To me, the only depressing thing described in this article is the claim that Obama's initial objections to the surge were entirely political. I am certainly not surprised that politics would factor into this decision, but it is still depressing to hear (if true).
    That's Gates' opinion, which doesn't mean that it is a fact. Besides, don't overlook the fact that 'The Surge in Iraq' itself was a politically motivated policy. It was a good, fear-mongering response to the growing pubilc dislike of the Iraqi War because it fed into the ongoing narrative about "if you're not with us...." It gave Republicans the chance to "bait and switch" the national discussion away from WMDs, NSA's unwarranted wiretaps, water boarding, soldier misconduct, and the discussion about whether or not Iraq was in the midst of a civil war.

    So, yeah, Democrats were not stupid. The smart ones saw through the "bait and switch" attempt. Curiously enough, it was Democrats who had called for a troop surge shortly after Baghdad had initially fallen, in order to secure the region. Instead, Bush had almost immediately withdrawn troops once the airport was secured, and declared "Mission Accomplished."

    January 8, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  10. Marcus (from...?)

    CALIFORNIA – 'OBAMA CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH. Neither can democrats in general.'

    What 'Truth' are you talking about? The one YOU agree with or the one YOU disagree with?

    January 8, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  11. Jack 2

    Anyone with a clue these days know Obama is inept and a liar. He's viewed as weak by the world and America. He's divided the nation more than anyone before himself. I'm still not even convinved this guy was rally born in Hawaii. So many contradictions from him and his own family. Unarguably the most ineffective weak president ever

    January 8, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  12. franktrades

    Why is this on your CNN blog and not headlined? The duplicity of the president is the #1 concept here.

    January 8, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  13. Toomuch

    Not surprising at all. We all know what Obama is all about...

    January 8, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  14. croaton999

    King Obama and Queen Hillary are not fit to lead the military.

    January 8, 2014 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  15. franktrades

    Why is this in your CNN blog and not headlined? The real story here is the duplicity of the president.

    January 8, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  16. Toomuch

    If this book was praising of Obama, the leftists would be praising Gates. So it is not about the substance of his disclosures about Obama it is that they are negative against Obama and of course the left can have none of that for their messiah..

    January 8, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  17. Dave

    Based on the trailer, doesn't sound like an interesting book to read. The President ran on pulling troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and who does like testifying infront of Congress? The next thing that they are going to reveil is Gates saying that the Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate can't agree on anything.

    January 8, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  18. Lakehead

    Now one can understand why it makes no sense to accommodate political appointments to the opposite party. Whatever advice Obama received in keeping Gates was sorely misplaced.

    January 8, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  19. renemur

    This is why there should be term limits on elected officials. President – 1 term for 6 years. DONE. That way there is no wasted time campaigning for the second term, no misleading the public for "political" reasons.

    January 8, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  20. Dandy Dizmore

    Sounds like he was fair about his criticism of Obama and Congress. No doubt Obama has made mistakes but the congress is downright dysfunctional. A bunch of self centered id iots. I have no idea how to fix that but it probably starts with financial reform of the election process. Money has corrupted our government.

    January 8, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  21. srcactus

    Der Schpin Doctours are at working away spinning a reply. Ahh the politics of it all.

    Does anyone know of a super executive search organization that we can contact? There is a job opening that will need a great deal talent to fill.

    January 8, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  22. Barbara

    Hard core leftists? Marxists? Nonsense.

    January 8, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  23. mercfan

    This is what happens when you keep hold overs from a previous administration of an opposing party. This is why a new President from the opposing party usually cleans house. If Gates was a Democrat and Obama was a Republican, the same thing would have happened.

    The reason why Obama didn’t replace Gates: when we had the last two transitions of power (when the opposing party left the White House and the other party took over) that’s when terrorists attacked the USA.

    In 1993 terrorist tried to take down the WTC two months after GHW Bush left and Clinton took over (almost exactly one month after Clinton was sworn in). Then 9/11 happened 9 months after Clinton left and GW Bush took over. Obama was trying to avoid the problems those transitions encountered by keeping Gates on at the Pentagon.

    There is nothing scandalous here – so he changed his mind about the troop surge.

    January 8, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  24. woodlander2

    Before the election, White House made up a phony reason for the attack on Benghazi, got the IRS to silence opposition, lied about the effects of Obamacare, why wouldn't they lie about their position on the war for political reasons. Obama is and always will be a hollow suit.

    January 8, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  25. R.A.

    Gates is spot on with Biden. He is a idiot. Actually a national disgrace.......
    Gates probably is telling the truth as he can sell books with the truth......
    Gates also makes a lot of sense now if we look at past mistakes by USA in Afghanistan.
    I guess the CIA need to pay Kazai more money. 1.5 million a month is not enough to keep him on our side....

    January 8, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
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