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.

[twitter-follow screen_name='politicalticker']

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. sammy zoso

    And the problem is what? Sounds to me like Obama was correct in all of his opinions – again. Bush was a foolish, stupid clown who became president by mistaken vote tabulations. Afghanistan and Iraq wars set the country back at least 10 years, and much worse than that resulted in thousands of needless deaths and injuries that continue today.

    January 8, 2014 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  2. sly

    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...

    Sorry Victor but I don't think anyone takes the Tea Party seriously – they max out around 15% of the vote. Christie was indeed a somewhat moderate Republican liar, much like Romney (who actually seemed honest).

    With Christie out now, maybe someone like Colin Powell will step up to fill the void. I guarantee Cruz won't run, as he turned into the laughing stock of America with his "shut down America" policy.

    January 8, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  3. simplulo

    Future presidents will think twice about having cabinet secretaries from another party.

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

    "For him, it's all about getting out,"

    If that were only true.

    January 8, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  5. HighPlains

    I don't see any revelations that are particularly shocking or outrageous. I would guess that most Presidential advisers try to put spin on their advice to the President (*any* President.)
    He said the President supported the troops, but had misgivings about their mission. Also not shocking... I would hope ANY President would second-guess himself when sending troops abroad.
    And the bit about Biden being the greatest statesman of his time almost made me spit out my soda!

    Seriously, I don't know what the Whitehouse is all bent out of shape about. The things he revealed where not surprising or even very damning in any way. The rest was just his opinion. I don't think the excerpts printed here particularly "slam" the President at all.

    January 8, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  6. Independent Thinker

    According to the post I am reading, many people are either willfully blind or have yet to see through the façade that has been set up around the Obama administration. There is just too much information from far too many people coming out that points at a serious lack of integrity within the Obama administration. The Obama administration is looking more and more like a liberal version of the Nixon administration all the time. What eventually led the Nixon administration down a bad path was its inability to tolerate and shrug off any form of bad criticism from their opponents. In this regard, the Obama administration is eerily similar. At this point, I think that too many politicians in both parties, Obama included, are putting party politics, a lust for power and control, and ideology over the wellbeing of the country and the people.

    January 8, 2014 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  7. Harley Quinn

    Obama lost faith in his Afghanistan policy because it was failing...is that not a natural, normal response? If something's not working, it's probably best not to put faith in it.

    January 8, 2014 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  8. sly

    "What eventually led the Nixon administration down a bad path was its inability to tolerate and shrug off any form of bad criticism from their opponents"
    Yup – it was their thin skin, not the fact that Nixon was a felonous crook, a sick racist, and the man who killed up to 1 million Americans in Vietnam.

    Nah ... Nixon didn't become the most hated and least respected President of all time because he couldn't take criticism. It was because they were going to put him in jail if he didn't resign.

    But, hopefully Gov Christie will learn a bit from Nixon, and not go on TV saying "I am not a CROOK". Cause the Obese One got caught red handed with his pants down, and as a result, it appears the Republicans are toast. Done. Cooked.

    January 8, 2014 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  9. Got to get the books

    Snowden, Gates, and Rodman means a lot of reading, full of fascinating info.

    January 8, 2014 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  10. ru serious

    The WH and their media cheer squad are in full attack mode,if it weren't so pathetic it might be funny. The leader of the free world who "supports the troops but not the mission"...that right there is mutually exclusive. Three more years, heaven help us. Voters, please do a better job next time. Just because someone gives a nice speech and campaigns well does not mean he/she can govern or lead . Obama was not and still is not ready for prime time and he has surrounded himself with a bunch of political hacks!

    January 8, 2014 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  11. Anonymous

    I don't see the problem here. It was obvious that Obama wanted to get out of Afghanistan, but also obvious that he had to finish the job first. He accomplished the mission where Bush failed, and now we're in the process of drawing out. Seems like a sparkling review, not a criticism.

    January 8, 2014 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  12. ermentrude

    Seems like a good book to read. Equally harsh and complimentary to both the very same individuals, policies, and politics, well except for Biden. I expect when I read this book I will ultimately learn more about Gates, than what he is writing about, and that isn't a bad thing.

    January 8, 2014 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  13. MrSparky

    Obama's decisions may have been politically motivated but at least he did not get us involved in new wars. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are huge and costly blunders sold to us by lies and fear mongering, Compared with the losses (lives, financial and international influence) the mistakes made by Obama pale in comparison.

    January 8, 2014 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  14. Willy100

    I thought that we voted for a new Party and President that Promised he would STOP these useless wars and Bring The Troops Home ? ? We need the Troops to man the TSA – – WHY are we still arguing and writing Books when the President Promised ? ? Ughh ? ?

    January 8, 2014 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  15. Goblin King

    So Obama did everything for his own political benefit. Tell us something we don't know. I am sure by the end of his administration Al Qaeda will control Iraq, and the Taliban will be running Afghanistan.

    January 8, 2014 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  16. Farrok

    Thank you Mr. President. You are correct as the American People can't stand uncle Karzai either nor do they respect or want anything to do with his corrupt Afghani Government. Please bring our Sons and Daughters home where they belong.

    Cut off the money to these false friends of America; no more American blood and treasure squandered for these people. America is in poor repair and the funds could be used to rebuild our streets, cities, schools, grid, and Our Nation.

    Please get us Out of Afghanistan as that was one of the main reasons many Americans Voted for you!

    January 8, 2014 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  17. Mary

    Reminds me of another traitorous SOB....Snowden.

    January 8, 2014 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  18. wm Scot

    So all the media whoop-la was about the President and nothing about congress that he had the most contempt for ! Come on start leveling the criticism on the fools in congress that really need to be under the spotlight. The President did not like the was and did not want to be in the war ! The surge was not his idea but Gates and the generals !
    Politics are always in play but star getting to the folks that are pulling the purse strings and playing the games ! The House of Representatives !

    January 8, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  19. sly

    I kinda think the White House is too busy celebrating the meltdown of Felon Chris Christie to worry about another TeaBillieRepublican attack.

    Didn't the Republicans already shut down America? Oh wait, they lost that one also.

    Republicans continue to prove they are what we call "Poor Losers".

    January 8, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  20. I Can't Believe It

    Sounds like Gates is a grumpy old man to me. Maybe Cheney is pulling his strings. No matter what your political affiliation, I think this "memoir" is ill-timed and malicious. What's his reasoning for this? Of course President Obama didn't believe in a war he inherited. He had to make the best of a bad situation.

    January 8, 2014 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  21. Rf7381

    Looks like he just submitted his application to work at FoxNews.

    January 8, 2014 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  22. glenview0818

    Anyone that does not know all this already is stuck in the political party game and can't see the forest for the trees.

    January 8, 2014 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  23. JustWho

    Did Gate get Snowden's permission to disclose?

    January 8, 2014 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  24. Lucas

    Obama couldn't lead a herd of sheep, much less a state, MUCH less a country. He is incompetent and unqualified. The only reason he was elected was because of his race. Period.

    January 8, 2014 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  25. EdL

    Should be no problem for Obama, He can squirm out of anything, should he need help His mainstream media will assist.

    January 8, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25