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. woodrow

    Maybe the real problem was Gates was ineffective and now he want's to blame everyone else after his career is over.

    January 8, 2014 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  2. styxhexenhammer666

    There isn't an honest person in DC and hasn't since at least the 1960s. (Okay, maybe the 1910s.)

    That includes both parties and all of congress.

    January 8, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  3. navaJohn

    What do you expect from a Republican about a Democrat? Kind words? He should never have been kept on the job.

    January 8, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  4. drc

    Well, he is spot on with Congress. A lower life form of existence does not exist below a member of corrupt Congress who play us like puppets.

    Both parties are corrupt and We The People sit here and argue about which party actually has their best interest. The answer is NEITHER and they (All of Congress and the clowns in the White House) should be removed from Office so we can hit the reset button with non-career-joker-politicians.

    January 8, 2014 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  5. Phillip

    I was in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. I could definitely see the top-down politics which showed a lack of support from, well, the top-down. Commanders disliked their missions as much as us enlisted folks who had to carry them out.

    January 8, 2014 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  6. Marcus (from...?)

    @ 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.

    Sorry to tell you (not) but given all the fabricated accusations against Mrs. Clinton I'd be REALLY surprised if there wasn't a political add of hers, when she's running for POTUS, in which ALL the baseless 'scandals' fabricated by the GOP that involved her were not shown with a 'The result? Nothing! Tax-payer money wasted on yet another witch-hunt!' stamped on it.
    The GOP have tried and tried and tried and tried again to produce ANYTHING that could be used to put her on trial (either a poltical one or a plain criminal one) over the past 20 years, wasted millions of dollars and the result? Not a single fine or charge!

    January 8, 2014 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  7. Lars

    Gates really does know how to rile up the Republican base, with him hoping for a "Best Seller".

    BTW, I can't remember him being such an outstanding Sec. of Defense.

    The only reason Gates stayed-on with the Obama Admin is because of his earlier involvement there, having been part of that Bush crew (Rumsfeld -Gates) who had originally claimed and maintained that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, thereby trying to justify the high combat KIA rate inflicted upon our troops there.

    January 8, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  8. Atoadaso

    Republican playing to the base. Americans sure love history, except when it steps on their toes. If it had not been for George Bush and his Cronies we would all be much better off today. Say what you will, Bush was the worst president we ever had. What a mess he made. And all, except the rich, will be paying for him for a long time to come. It can all be blamed on Obama, but he did not start the lies that took us down a very bad road, a road that seems to have no end.

    January 8, 2014 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  9. Phillip

    ...and yes, NOBODY likes Karzai. He is a total backstabbing, double-speaking son of a...you know what. He bites the hand that feeds him every minute of every day by telling the village elders he meets that he's trying to kick the Americans out but Afghanistan doesn't have the military might to do it.

    If he told us to just leave, we would leave.

    January 8, 2014 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  10. Todd

    A former senior official writes a book critical of the Obama administration. How else is he expecting to sell it. Geeezzz

    January 8, 2014 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  11. Lee

    It seems that we blow things up bigger then they are. Gates says that Obama didn't believe in the mission like most Americans who want their men and women home. BTW that isn't news, Obama doesn't believe in nation building. I believe that Bush would at this point agree.

    January 8, 2014 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  12. Fish

    Just one more reason to end the damn war, my God why are we waiting??? We need to pull a "Vietnam" on the White House maybe the chant could be "Hey, Hey, Hey BHB how many how many troops have you needlessly killed today???" I'm terrible at rhymes but remember the protests well!!! Even Gates says the President really isn't into it, well neither is our nation. I care more about our troops than Karzai, Gates, Obama or any of them we need to bring them home and convert those DOD contracts to take care of America like maybe converting Coal power plants to LNG???

    January 8, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  13. Goblin King

    I certainly trust Robert Gates to tell the truth before either Clinton or Obama, both of which have been proven liars.

    January 8, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  14. gar

    Gates....this guy is another GOP liar. Only stupid sheep republicans would believe this guy.

    January 8, 2014 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  15. cacheese

    I am not surprised at the content of Gates' revelations, but he certainly picked a very inappropriate time and venue for them – not well suited for a gentleman who I thought Mr. Gates was.

    January 8, 2014 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  16. Heisenberg

    General McChrystal, Petraeus, Gates... all seem to have negative perceptions of Obama's leadership. I would challenge you to find a military service member who feels confident with Obama being their Commander in Chief... besides the one's affected by Don't Ask, Don't Tell, of course...

    January 8, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  17. gar

    Take a look at the economy. Soooooo much better than the Bush/Cheney years.

    January 8, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  18. Brian in DC

    Obama is a buffoon, gates just reiterated that point.

    January 8, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  19. Victor

    "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."

    This post right here from Nodack sums up the situation nicely.

    January 8, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  20. Bill, NY

    I voted for this president twice, but have to side with Gates due to the fact that this president has the weakest supporting cast I've ever seen.

    January 8, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  21. Thomas

    Gates has established some great points in his book. Its sad to think that the government doesnt think for much more than themselves, but its true. Gates talks about alot more than Obama and the democrats, he specifically goes after Congress too which is a majority of Republicans. I think Gates point in his book is to make the populace realize who they are voting for and re-electing. The root of our problem is that we re-elect people who have done nothing to help us. Congressional approval ratings are the lowest they have been in decades. Its time to elect new people into office (those who trully have America in their best interests). I suggest people start researching candidates. KNOW the people you vote for and the people that are already in office. Change comes down to the people.

    January 8, 2014 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  22. RetiredVet

    It's about time someone with a pair stood up and told the truth. We all knew it, we just didn't have a Chanpion until now. It's not about any particular party, they're all bad. I don't feel I have voted for the best President with upstanding morals and values with a vission of where to take this Great Nation. NO! I've been voting for the best of the worst. Where are those men and women with similar morals and values that this Nation was founded on and which made it the most powerful nation in the World. It's time for these politicians to wake up and smell the coffee and do what's right for their Children and Grandchildren.

    January 8, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  23. sly

    with ChristieGate coming out today, no one in America will ever believe a Republican again.

    "There were WMDs buried in Iraq"
    "We won!"
    "I didn't shut down that New Jersey city"
    "I was just helping the sheep over the fence"

    Sorry dudes – you are toast. The only Republican I would trust to run for President is Mitt Romney, IF he pays his taxes.

    January 8, 2014 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  24. cnickthomas

    Obama should have never kept Gates on when he was elected to the Presidency. Let this be a lesson to future Presidents.

    January 8, 2014 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  25. NCIndependent

    LOL to those putting party politics into this spin. Gates was critical of Bush too but yes, more critical apparently of Obama. Maybe the truth hurts. The Emperor has no clothes.

    January 8, 2014 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
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