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. Dave

    I seem to recall when Obama picked Gates the warnings about his GOP connections where everywhere on CNN. Well, guess what, they were right!!

    January 8, 2014 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  2. J Russ

    If your comment is that Iraq was Bush's war perhaps you should take a look at the congressional voting record to see who else supported it, and as far as Afganistan I seem to remember that Obama refered to it as the good war.

    January 8, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  3. samwright23

    His comments regarding Congress is spot on and exactly why they are loathed so much. Politicians (no matter how much they say they are not) are all about "polls" and "re-election" so the comments regarding the President and the others make perfect sense.

    January 8, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  4. TruthwillPrevail

    Sad that we are managed by LIARS and DISHONESTY is running out of control!

    January 8, 2014 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |

    Democrats liked him (Gates) until he spoke the truth.

    I wonder why that is.

    January 8, 2014 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  6. Veteran

    "I never doubted Obama's support for the troops," Gates writes. "only his support for their mission"

    This is precisely what happened in Vietnam when the White House kept limiting what Us troops could attack

    US Army Vet 1966-1969

    January 8, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  7. TruthwillPrevail

    Precisely because we cannot TRUST our government and the lack of leadership in it, is the key reason we need LESS GOVERNMENT intervention. I wish CNN would not always defend the LIES of this administration

    January 8, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  8. Jason Ransone

    So a hand-chosen Secretary of Defense, upon leaving employment of the white house, reveals that Barack Obama had no interest in the war, didn't believe in the possible success of the strategy he articulated and signed off on as commander in chief, and we are all surprised by this? Really? Come on....George Bush and the military hunted for Osama for 8 years. Obama keeps hunting for 2 more and he gets the guy...good for him. But the idea that Gates' book is some big revelation - what a joke. Talk to anyone - really anyone - in the military and it is palpable. No one has disliked America's military more than this sitting president, and he was just called out on it.

    January 8, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  9. Mayfray

    "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". If this is true, and it either is or is not, then its the end of the line for the Clinton's.

    January 8, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  10. shehar39

    This is JUST the first major memoir. Imagine what else is coming out. This is either just scratching the surface or the biggest bombshell. Any way you slice this, it is bad for Obama.

    Gates basicly says Obama does not care about the US, he only care about himself and re-election. Imagine if Gates is only half right... it is still really bad.

    January 8, 2014 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  11. scranton

    Obama's foreign policy is a complete failure just as his predecessor.

    January 8, 2014 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  12. Billy

    It IS all about getting out. The sooner the better. I feel sorry for the women and children left behind there, but we can not be Karzai's rent a cops forever. We finally got Bin Laden and the original 911 Al Queada bums. We have given enough of our blood and treasure to Afghanistan.

    January 8, 2014 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  13. Female Veteran

    He did not clean house after the elections. Move all those dead heads when you take charge. Trust them as far as you can throw their behinds, snakes will bite. All politicans lie, join in on the games if you want power prestige and position.

    January 8, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  14. DC Observer

    Term Limits for Congress and no cushy pensions and lifetime benefits will help clear some of the dead wood.... time for America to Wake Up to the fact that our current system is NOT working for the country as a whole

    January 8, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  15. Stu in Iowa

    Gates = Pile of Crap trying to cash in on Obama hate.

    January 8, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  16. HaroldLewisBlair

    Are U kidding??? did U really expect this man to tell the most corrupt person ever to set foot in the whitehouse that everyone around him is corrupt (including himself) anyway the newsmedia belong to the super rich people who installed Obama and this won't even make the last page of any American newspaper or be in any bookstores- that's how much power these Obama installers have- I am proud that someone has the guts to tell the truth- Bill Orielly & others are allowed to disagree with Obama but not go near his past history or his FORGED birth certificate- just GOOGLE "Mia Marie Pope" and listen to one of Obama's old friends talk about his past history and why it was hidden at great expense-

    January 8, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  17. Cwhat'sNew

    I fully respected Gates until I read this.

    January 8, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  18. Eaglefan

    Just read in a comment that "Gates is a man of considerable integrity". Where in the H-E-L-L was Gates when Dubya started a war on a LIE and caused thousands of Americans to lose their lives? Surely Robert Gates commented about this horrific decision. Wait a minute. Gates said absolutely NOTHING. Gates is a man of considerable gall – period.

    January 8, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  19. ConcernedCitizenVoter

    The Repub's top pick, Krispy Kreme, isn't looking much better. Basically shutting down a bridge because some local mayor didn't support him is about as close as you can get to mafia-style revenge in public office.

    Imagine how big his petty vengence tactics would be if he were president!

    January 8, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  20. anthrogirl

    I was very interested in reading this book. With the good and bad comments about the White House, it sounded like it might have been a realistic glimpse behind closed doors. But when he made the blanket negative statement about VP Biden's 40 years of national security and foreign policy work, I had to shake my head. Joe Biden had great and not so great moments throughout his career as do most politicians. For Gates to write off 4 decades with that one statement, I knew that this was just another partisan hatchet piece.

    January 8, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  21. Patricia

    Sour grapes old man. He is having a hissy fit like a child. He is so lucky that he never went to jail for his knowledge of the Iran Contra affair.

    January 8, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  22. rbockman

    Gates, a phd, an Air Force intelligence officer, U.S. Director of Central Intelligence, university president, co-chair Council on Foreign Relations, a patriot and dedicated public servant. Not Obama or anyone in this anti-American administration would make a pimple on his derriere.

    January 8, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  23. manhandler1

    Gotta sell his book somehow.

    January 8, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  24. NotYoDaddy

    It just makes me chuckle!

    The very same people that would jump up and down with glee every time an anti-Bush article/book came out, are now the vicious little weasel people looking to bite everyone's fingers off for any anti-Obama or anti-Clinton commentary.

    You are just so silly.

    January 8, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  25. ...***...

    at least Joe Biden speaks out against rape (on the View). evidently Bob Gates didn't...according to The Invisible War.

    January 8, 2014 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
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