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. Paul

    I just wish the media would talk to Gates directly. Instead of he said, she said, they could get an answer directly. My guess is his publisher wants to sell a few more books. Personally, I don't want a president that is a "yes" man to the military.

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

    Who are we to believe Gates or Biden the bungling idiot?

    January 8, 2014 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  3. acongregationofvapors

    He absolutely should've published this immediately. This isn't about Obama; he's not facing reelection. It's about that nightmare Hillary Clinton, the unimaginably dense Joe Biden, and the most useless confederacy of dunces any civilized society has ever yielded power to, the United States Congress. This is politics, not tea time. If they don't want discourse or criticism, they shouldn't have taken their jobs. Nobody's life was put in jeopardy by this book, nor will, sadly, anyone's career get ruined. However, we do have every right to know how our "leaders" behave being that we're not privy to most of what happens in D.C. The only thing worse than the degenerate Tea Party is Obama and his quack squad of know-nothings. Cheers, Mr. Gates. Never been a big fan of yours, but as the great Frederick Douglass once said, "At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed."

    January 8, 2014 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  4. James

    Too soon.

    January 8, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  5. MacGuyver

    "If you can't handle it, you can leave and you're quite" Quite? What a coward you are Mr. Korb. If things are being done that are clearly deceptive to the American people by the people the citizens have to look to for guidance, you don't just leave a zip your lip. You tell the people they are being lied to. You are a Traitor to fellow humans.

    January 8, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  6. karek40

    Haven't said much positive about our president or congress (both parties), however, if President Obama has lost faith in his policies in Afghanistan as most Americans have surmised for some time then I would suggest he tell everyone and get out. We would think more of him for seeing it isn't going to work than for staying the course when he knows it isn't going to work. Not all problems can be solved by the U.S.

    January 8, 2014 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  7. jim

    You will now see the left try to destroy this man for telling the truth.

    January 8, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  8. Just me

    The transparent administration is worried?

    January 8, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  9. G. T. Simpson

    The Obama administration will do what they do best – Lie and Deny! Never accepting responsibility for anything! It's Bush's fault!

    January 8, 2014 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  10. bergerfry

    I'll wait for the movie.

    January 8, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  11. lunch84

    Gates' main criticism of Obama is devoid of semantic content: so what if Gates – doubted Obama's support – for the evolving missions of the two Middle East wars that G.W.Bush dumped onto Obama's lap?

    President Obama is allowed to think whatever he deems appropriate, and Gates should confine himself to judging Obama's actions and formal decisions. But when Gates so confines himself, he apparently has much less of interest to say.

    Either Gates' book is vapid, or this book review has done us and the book a disservice.

    January 8, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  12. jim

    WOW you peole are creepy, Gates tells the truth and you believe Obama whose lies are easily proven.

    January 8, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  13. Sue

    People who worked under Bush, wrote books about Bush. People who worked under Obama, write books about Obama. I don't care, it's just a book and they can do what they want. I see he is getting a lot of free publicity for his book.

    January 8, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  14. MightyMoo

    So basically he not only grills Obama and Bush but gives the people in Congress a thumbs down because they're ineffective and too concerned with their own careers instead of the nations business? I like this guy!

    January 8, 2014 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  15. BO

    What is Obama all bent about? This is nothing compared to the corruption of his entire administration.

    January 8, 2014 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  16. mom marine

    Why is anyone surprised by this? Those of us with sons/daughters serving have always known this president has no carrying for the troops or the missions. And those of us that have grown up in the military know the Democrats are always anti-military. And that the Clintons absolutely HATE the military. We also always know that anything Hillary does is for politic reasons (not policy) – heck – look how long she lived with a womanizer because of politics. Dems don't care if she gets troops killed in the process – they never have cared.

    January 8, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  17. CryBabies

    This is really no surpise. The global agenda of this administration has been abysmal. The left will counter that BO got OBL but that was the result of the continuation of the hunt started back in 2002. Thank God BO did not curtail that operation! A blind squirrel will eventually find a nut . The left can blame the GOP all it wants but this administration has not been very straight forward with the American people....definately not transparent like they promised during the campaign.

    January 8, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  18. Vet #9384787

    The type of duty and honor present in men like Mr. Gates is why the US at one time was considered a role model/template for democracy. I don't think anyone would argue that his verbal barrage toward congress was befitting or even understated. Most of them are rotten to the core, selfish, and complacent. While a few are good apples.

    His comment about Biden may have been unnecessarily harsh but he did use non-blanket statement lingo by using "I think" and "nearly" instead of absolutes. He clearly suggested it was his opinion and not factual qualities.

    I feel he would have been successful as defense secretary in any war era and I'm happy to have served while he was secretary.

    January 8, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  19. loyalright

    Out of sight, out of mind, out of touch; that's obama

    January 8, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  20. Ed

    Gates just admitted what most informed Americans already new. Liberals will defend Obama no matter what he does and I mean anything .

    January 8, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  21. Hawkeye07

    What a stinking sack of Democrat this one turned out to be – hey, but what do you expect from a loon who's total experience consists of evasion, delusion, deceit and hypocrisy – we asked for it – and, as the Chief Justice tongue in cheek implied, we got it – look no further than the mirror for someone to blame.

    January 8, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  22. Stephen

    They all are traitors to the United States of America, gates included!

    January 8, 2014 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  23. sly

    All Republicans credibility took a huge hit today with ChristieGate. The man is toast. Americans are tired of Republicans shutting down our government, encouraging homegrown terrorist bombings, and now, shutting down entire cities, all for politics.

    America: the Republican Party died today with Christie. Y'all will be lucky if you could convince Romney to run again.

    January 8, 2014 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  24. mainesrd

    Is anyone really shocked by this? Gates exposing Obama as a poser, motivated only by his political self interests? He is an incompetent fool who probably spends the bulk of his day playing on the elevator. He was elected based on his race alone and his ability to read a teleprompter. What a dismal failure of a President. He has set this country back decades.

    January 8, 2014 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  25. Rob S

    So Mr. Gates writes a book. He's an unelected former government employee. Big deal. So was Snowden.

    January 8, 2014 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
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