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. Hooper

    Don't rebuke this little creep. He's a massive lie telling politician and to prove this to yourselves just look at statements he made while in the position he exited. He was all smiles and chocolate covered goo when he was given awards at the White House ceremonies when he retired. Now he's a small man with bitter memories. Correction: He's just a small man.

    January 7, 2014 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  2. Lou45

    sure he lost faith in his war policy, he knows nothing about running a war! We need to clean out the American voters that put this thing in the white house. The naive clowns voted for him twice, that is a clear sign of total incompetence!

    January 7, 2014 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  3. bibleverse1

    No one really had faith in the war strategy/

    January 7, 2014 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  4. gango

    The President isn't the only one who questioned the mission in Afghanistan and its president Mohammad Karzai. To hear President Karzai threaten to change sides in the war is akin to Winston Churchill threatening to become a Nazis. What kind of ally is that? We need to get out now. After all the American men and women who died or were maimed for life fighting the Taliban and all the hundreds of billions of dollars (trillions?) thrown into that country, they still kick around/murder their women and children (who dare to seek an education); they still raise poppy used to poison Americans once it hits our streets, and the warlords have more walk-around money in U.S. currency at even given moment that many Americans earn in a lifetime (courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.) It will take Afghanistan less than ninety days to fall to the Taliban once the last U.S. troops leave (and tomorrow isn't soon enough for me.)

    January 7, 2014 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  5. Mick Moynihan

    We had no business over there anyway. Any strategy that called for more troops or increases in our involvement was generally opposed by most Americans. Even today, does anyone know who we have saved the country for? They all hate us, only in varying degrees. It was a waste of money and a greater waste of our own troops.

    January 7, 2014 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  6. jon

    I kind of like this guy. He certainly tells it like it is. Good for him! Congress is truly a big bunch of clowns. Sad.

    January 7, 2014 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  7. Sick of it

    Does the revelations Gates shared really surprise anyone?

    January 7, 2014 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  8. D Russell

    He campaigned on getting the US out of that war. That is what Americans wanted, that is what Americans voted for, and that is what Obama delivered. Only neo-con Republicans who got the US into Iraq in first place, and failed to get American into another war they wanted (Iran) would see that as a criticism. I would say job well done!

    January 7, 2014 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  9. Kelcy

    Really? This is news? During Obama's first year he tried to get his military commanders and Gates to give him an exit strategy on both Iraq and Afghanistan. That was after all one of the major reasons he was elected the first time. As I recall the commanders and Gates fought him every day and in every way.....leaking reasons why they shouldn't "abandon" those two countries, blah, blah, blah, blah. Furthermore they wouldn't do diddly squat until Obama drafted out the exit strategy himself. Then they fought him some more because they wanted this 100K manpower surge where they tried to convince him "they" could win in Afghanistan. He compromised with them and said he would be open to convincing them convincing him to extend the exit deadline. Anyone who was paying attention knew we'd lost Afghanistan way before the election when we took our attention off the ball to attack Iraq (under false pretenses).

    I found the military commanders and Gates to be highly unprofessional from start to end. Obama should have fired them all after the first few months of stonewalling, "leaks", and out and out insubordination. That was a huge mistake on Obama's part. No surprise that Gates has produced this unprofessional hack job masquerading as a "memoir."

    January 7, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  10. samb

    Thank God POTUS lost faith in his military advisors and the ridiculous war and strategy in Afganistan. It's time to get out, yesterday. Good call America!

    January 7, 2014 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  11. vonridel

    Van Jones attacking the messenger is classic Democrat policy when they cannot counter the message. Obama is beyond incompetent as anyone paying attention can see. Problem is the Democrats and radicals that run the party and protect it in the press do not care that he is incompetent, only that he pushes for leftist causes.

    January 7, 2014 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  12. Mara Tam

    He didn't put the US into Afghanistan. Very many of us are "uncomfortable" about being there. Gates was a Bush guy. "nuf said."

    January 7, 2014 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  13. Dan

    Sometimes the truth hurts. Politicians have been about themselves over the good of the country for far too long.

    January 7, 2014 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  14. AlgoreLies

    oooohhhhhh, barack...
    you are a snake, hillary, biden and those around you...

    poor thing, how can anyone expect any decision to be made entirely by you, or anything good to come out of your administration.

    foolish man to believe and to listen to those who told you could be president. the color of your skin was needed for your agenda to be forced down american's throat.

    January 7, 2014 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  15. anAmerican1954

    I think it is excellent to paraphrase that President Obama has the advisors, insight, fortitude, and armed forces to be able to get bin Laden and then focus on getting our soldiers home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

    January 7, 2014 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  16. soul68

    It's the difference between a President who realizes it's a useless endeavor and one who would never admit it no matter how bad it got.

    January 7, 2014 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  17. Harold Read

    The Obama Administration went totally on the defensive and the book hasn't even hit the shelves, yet.

    January 7, 2014 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  18. Belseth

    "All we are saying, is give war a chance....."

    January 7, 2014 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  19. Davezs1

    Obama is a failure,and he will pass the buck any chance he get

    January 7, 2014 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  20. satch2011

    This says it all:

    "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."

    Fire them all in 2014!

    January 7, 2014 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  21. BudW

    Truth begins to leak out on the President, lame duck.

    January 7, 2014 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  22. lean6

    "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, according to the Times.

    Not sure why the President wouldn't embrace this assessment actually. We should have left Afghanistan while Bin Laden's corpse was still warm. He had every right to not trust his commander, to not "stand" Karzai, and to believe that it was time to get out. The problem comes in trying to explain why we're still there. On a different note, i'm thoroughly disgusted with these so-called government servants leaving their posts and cashing in with book deals. To me, they have very little credibility on that basis alone. As far as i'm concerned, Gates is trying to fatten his bank account with every word that comes out of his mouth. He's just another in a long line of leeches.

    January 7, 2014 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  23. Lela

    We have to watch this president for two more years? How much has he already messed up and we actually give him the chance to mess up even more for two additional years?


    January 7, 2014 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  24. Prospero

    Are defense "instillations" part of trickle-down theory?

    January 7, 2014 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  25. EdL

    A Community Organizer becomes Commander-in-Chief. We should be surprised?

    January 7, 2014 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
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