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 in Atlanta

    No bombshell here – just a confirmation of what we already knew, that Obama and Clinton are all about political perceptions and not about what's best for America. You can see it in everything these two political hacks do on a daily basis. The day Obama leaves the White House will be the best day for the future of America. But only if American voters are smart enough not to replicate their two-term mistake with Obama by voting in Hilary. More of the same, that would be.

    January 8, 2014 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  2. contessa

    Goes to show you, no one knows who their friends or colleagues really are! No matter what this book says, I am a firm believer that President Obama and his Administration are not what CNN and all the other media outlets are trying to make him. You guys just have a field day trying to get some kind of "goods" on him don't you! Well, go right ahead. Gates knew exactly what to write and when . . for afterall . . it is political season one more time and I'm sure the Republicans needed some kind of a boost, since Hillary Clinton most likely will throw her hat into the ring . . . and then . . the Republicans will lose another election.

    January 8, 2014 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  3. SCC

    He never wrote a book about Bush – We should not have been in Iraq or Afghanistan in the first place.

    January 8, 2014 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  4. historyspeaks10

    al qaeda is on the run, mission accomplished, the war should be over in a matter of weeks, maybe a few months, the cost of the war will be paid back from the oil in iraq.......and the war/money machine keeps rolling along.....

    January 8, 2014 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  5. justbeamensch

    I'm not interested in Gate's opinion of his boss. Maybe Gates should have done his job better? This is nothing more than a political hack job/ payday for Gates.

    January 8, 2014 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  6. sofork

    What is the response from the Liar-in-Chief?

    January 8, 2014 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  7. Solitairedog

    I don't care what this Republican says. I voted for President Obama, not President Gates. He was a minion and now he is a cheap ex-minion. Buy his book, don't buy his book, in the end he is a washed up bitter old man who will find himself alone and reviled.

    January 8, 2014 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    Unfortunately, Secretary Gates is putting into words what we already knew from the president's body language. He is very uncomfortable with the war in Afghanistan, he doesn't like Karzai, he doesn't trust his generals, and he wants out of Bush's war. As for good old Joe, the Washington Navy Yard shooter took his poor advise and used a shotgun instead of an automatic weapon to do his damage. Joe Biden has been on the wrong side of foreign policy and other things for over 4 decades.

    January 8, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  9. Victor

    "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."

    You seem to be confused. Christie is a RINO and is not a conservative. He is exactly the type of person the Tea Party wants thrown out.

    Now I'll await your Tea Party rant...

    January 8, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  10. CryBabies

    @ gar...Economy so much better?!? Sure, we're just rolling in it. In fact the economy is so good that unemployment $$$ are being extended. I guess when the economy is this good then it makes sense that more people would be unemployed?!?!?! These democrats are making me thirsty! Time to head to the bar.

    January 8, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  11. Victor


    I don't care what this Republican says. I voted for President Obama, not President Gates. He was a minion and now he is a cheap ex-minion. Buy his book, don't buy his book, in the end he is a washed up bitter old man who will find himself alone and reviled."

    Nice to know you think of our military leadership as "minions." Pathetic.

    January 8, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  12. radar8

    Gates is a frustrated EX Sec Defense. The wars that he supported were absolute disasters. Gates was all-in with Iraq. Now Iraq is far worse than it was under Sadaam. Iran now has contgrol and the violence there is worse than ever. Gates was partially responsible for that debacle and now he wants to blame others.

    Sorry, Gates. You were a terrible Sec of Def and now you try to cover it up by writing a book. Go away. All you did was cause the US grief,l money and casualties.

    January 8, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  13. RT Colorado

    Time to sit back and watch as the Washington "Inside the Beltway" crowd circles the wagons. I never really gave sec. Gates much thought, neither negative or positive, but I guess I'll have to read his book and find out what all the 'fuss is about.

    January 8, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  14. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    TRUST "ME"
    "I" am NOT a liar !!!

    Did "I" not TELL you that "I" am just too AWESOME !!!

    Dictionary . c o m

    a person who has lied
    lies repeatedly

    January 8, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  15. Saywhat?

    It's interesting to hear people start talking about past Presidents to try and make things relative to another issue. Let's face it, all politicians place politics over country. If they don't you have situations where they (the politicians) impale the person who isn't playing politics.

    Politics – You wind up, Dirty, ruined, or dead.

    January 8, 2014 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  16. Campo

    There's the closure that many of us has been waiting for since Obama unwisely appointed Gates to be Defense S. He's Bush's man and now he's just working to reclaim his old position.

    Gates is a true-blooded GOP now joining to try to impede Hillary's path to the Presidency.

    January 8, 2014 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  17. phazon

    He is just mad cause his Xbox one got beat so badly that probably the last thing that is on peoples wishlist is an Xbox one.

    January 8, 2014 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  18. sly

    Newsflash: Republican tries to shut down America.

    Newsflash: Republican Presidential candidate caught redhanded shutting down a city.

    Christie: "Screw the school children".

    Yup - you are now officially retired, Obese One. WIth your new free time, please lose some weight since ya' gonna croak within a year otherwise.

    January 8, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  19. woodie

    Gates was ineffective and wants to spread the blame to others. That is what I'm hearing.

    January 8, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  20. HelmutScheiss

    Obama is the person with zero credibility. Went from "do nothing" to "can't do anything right". Worst president ever!

    January 8, 2014 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  21. DarrellSF

    I wish I could fast forward to see US history books in about 60 years. I'm convinced that this will go down as one of the most bleak times in US history, when it was okay to rip a President to shreds simply because of the color of his skin. It's almost impossibly to weed out the REAL failed policies of President Obama because to the racist GOP, everything he does is failed policy. And tragically, we will NEVER know just how great our nation could be at this moment because policies with which the American People have supported were never able to be implemented because of GOP and Tea Party obstructionism.

    January 8, 2014 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  22. Jerry

    Sooner or later good people who actually care speak out. Obama ended mcCrystals career because he and his staff knew what was up... And there is more to come, the dam is breaking.

    January 8, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  23. mickinmd

    "[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."

    I can't wait to read the book, but is there ANY thinking person in the USA who did/does NOT think Afghanistan was/is a waste of time? We're only throwing American lives and $100's of billions away. We've not set up any financial arrangements to our advantage – China, has! The people there hate us now and will hate us for generations with stories of American "brutality."

    January 8, 2014 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  24. scott

    Lie of the century, if you like your healthcare you can keep it!
    BHO rushes to pass the mandate, he ran against the mandate, lied to passed. U can't keep ur old plan, u can't keep your doctor and if you are in the middle class, its NOT affordable! REPEAL

    January 8, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  25. dajowix

    Jay Carney's remarks regarding Biden were quite amusing.

    When I saw Carney's beard the only thing that went through my mind was that his boss told him to "man up."

    Carney delivered his usual milquetoast defense of the Obama administration. He doesn't even have to have notes prepared. His is the same old speech.

    January 8, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
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