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. aldo

    Starting of an "interesting" year for Obama as the Chinese proverbs for a curse.

    January 8, 2014 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  2. ...***...

    I bet it is a sewer though. I wouldn't be shocked that people are sick of this crap.

    January 8, 2014 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  3. aldo

    Who will Obama called when it gets HOT in the Pacific?
    so, the Obama administration better KISS his butts.

    January 8, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  4. John

    I think Gates is being honest in his assesment of what he witnessed. Some good and some bad, if it was just a back stabbing book then I doubt there would have been issues that he agreed with Obama on.

    January 8, 2014 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  5. Nodack

    Gates bashing all the partisan politics and going after basically everybody in Washington.

    Then you come here and it's the public commenting and they sound like the politicians Gates was talking about. 100% partisan.

    If you are a Republican what Gates meant is that Obama was incompetent.
    If you are a Democrat what Gates said was that Republicans were incompetent.
    If you are above partisan politics what Gates said was that they all are incompetent.

    January 8, 2014 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  6. JiminNM

    Afghanistan has more than $3 trillion in minerals. As usual, we using our unsuspecting military personnel for greed, power and control of the world's people and resources for the benefit of the globalist bankers.

    January 8, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  7. woodlander2

    If Gates's comments directed at Bush rather than Obama, the left would hail him as a patriot and true American hero. His comments directed at Obama, in their mind is a traitor and lowest of low.

    January 8, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  8. Jules

    How is Gates writing a tell all while the current administration is still in charge any different than the leaks coming from Snowden? Perhaps Gates is thinking of running for president so he is taking a pre-emptive strike at Biden and Hillary Clinton.

    January 8, 2014 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  9. my10cents

    Interesting how Gate's comments on the Executive branch and the Congress mirror so many current polls that indicate that people aren't very happy with the White House but are exceptionally unhappy with congress.

    January 8, 2014 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  10. aldo

    So, how is Gates RELEASE of information on Obama administration COMPARES to Snowden DISCLOSURE of the NSA?
    Traitor or doing what is best for the country at personal sacrificed, or personal gain, fame and fortune?

    January 8, 2014 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  11. TomGI

    Obama was lazy when it came to picking a cabinet. Path of least resistance. Gates is a lifer politico, been around Washington for 30+ years. He'll step out and get on with some lobbyist law firm or government contractor for a few million dollars and them jump back in down the road with another administration. He's not going anywhere.

    January 8, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  12. W8a2nd

    Nothing new here. Gates will always be remembered as part of the Rumsfield/Wolfowitz/Cheney/Bush criminal cabal.

    January 8, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  13. Rick

    The man is a Republican. What could you expect him to say, that Obama is the best President since Lincoln? Come on! He has zero credibility.

    January 8, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  14. commonsenseperson

    CNN will always defend the lies of this administration.

    How I wish Obama would say "If you like this administration, you can keep this administration." A lot of us would be waving bye-bye.

    January 8, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  15. Ted

    I trust Gates a lot more than I trust Obama or Congress. Btw, CNN did not quote the key point, Obama's WH is more secretive than Nixon's was.

    January 8, 2014 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  16. Paul

    And breaking on CNN...."The Dismantling of America Continues."

    January 8, 2014 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  17. LibsRNuts

    It's hilarious how the libs all praised Gates when he was in the administration. You couldn't hear just how great a guy he was without it being nauseating. Now look at how those same hypocrites are coming back to trash him on here. LOL Well, you're only decent and respectible AS LONG AS you agree 100% with the libs and serve their leader. If you even dissent 1%, well you're evil and need to be silenced!

    January 8, 2014 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  18. McGuyver

    "President lost faith..." he never had faith. Obama doesn't have faith in anything but the devil, whom he's under contract with.

    January 8, 2014 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  19. LouieD

    Seems like a WHOOOOLE lot of Obama bashers completely missed the second half of the article that starts with: '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.'

    January 8, 2014 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  20. gadgtfreak

    Yu can't sell a book unless you put some explosive stuff in it. Doesn't matter whether it is right or wrong. Only proves one thing. Politicians can't be trusted.

    January 8, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  21. Chris

    "A Republican appointee of President George W. Bush who stayed on into Obama's administration ..."

    That's all we needed to know to assess his credibility ...

    January 8, 2014 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  22. ...***...

    writing might be therapeutic for a lot of these folks. maybe they should just get it all out of their system and maybe we would go forward faster.

    January 8, 2014 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  23. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Gates is a Texas man so his integrity will stay in tact in Texas but he's sold his soul to the Devil. God don't like ugly.

    January 8, 2014 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  24. guest2

    Dems don't like the message, attack the source. Does this surprise you any? Hillary and Bill were sounding the WMD alarm before bush was elected. Of course changing in mid stream was political.

    January 8, 2014 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  25. What Now

    Perhaps we should all wait until we read the book. I find it amusing that everyone is focusing on a few exerpts used by the media to gain attention. Besides, who could possilby be suprised that a republican didn't agree with all decisions and actions of a democratic administration.

    January 8, 2014 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
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