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. Budley

    We need to get out of the Middle East and stay out.

    January 7, 2014 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  2. georgex9

    Gates complained the President Obama seemed more interested in getting out of the war in Afghanistan than he was in taking the advice of military leaders. For this I applaud the president. He must have been under much pressure to continue the war there.

    January 7, 2014 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  3. bill

    CNN cannot stand the truth about obama–all the lies and poor leadership. shame shame. "obama is seekiing allies" says it all-if he were a real president they would seek him and he could care less about what people say about him. YOU CAN KEEP YOUR INSURANCE–IT WAS THE VIDEO-NOBODY TOLD ME-AND THE BEAT GOES ON. As a tax payer I am sick to see obama cost the tax payers $800,000 so his wife could stay some extra days in Hawaii???? wow--and the billion dollars that the website for obamacare will costs when bill gates could have had it done for less than 10 million or obama putting all that money into energy companies–billiions, and then selling the companies to china for a few million dollars???? and we won't even talk about the mess he has create overseas because "the allies" have lost all respect.

    January 7, 2014 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  4. concernedGrndma

    This administration is composed of politicians but not leaders. I have never trusted their decisions, and even less so, now.

    January 7, 2014 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  5. Grumpy2012

    I think Gates pulled a lot of punches.

    After all, there is the Washington Party circuit to be considered.

    January 7, 2014 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  6. josh p.

    .For him, it's all about getting out," Gates writes, according to the Times.

    So the Military Strategy is to start Wars and stay in them forever.

    January 7, 2014 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  7. Dave

    The risk here is that a president who is worried that changing strategy will appear in the news as "lacking confidence" in a "failed" strategy, then presidents are more likely to stay the course. We all know how that turns out.

    January 7, 2014 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  8. Siestasis

    "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." I think most Americans agree with him on that.

    January 7, 2014 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  9. Willy Wallace

    Obama's strategy is "retreat" and has been since his college Marxist brainwashing days and that's just like all those who surround him. If you research Obama and his circle, you will find they were anti-American, Pro-Soviet, radicals. They sided with the Communist Sandinistas and at the same time, they join Communist Party USA front groups like the United States Peace Council, an affiliate of the World Peace Council run by the Soviet KGB "active measures" department. They uses the "peace" groups to raise funds from churches, hospitals, and naive Americans to aid the Communist FMLN Rebels in El Salvador, which was a pro-U.S. country. They also aided the Guatemalan Communist-led rebels. Their main target was Mexico and so they used the Mexican Peace Council which was featured in an article by Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta. When the Soviet Union fell, our Communist peace groups funded the Chiapan Zapatistas headed by a Mexico City Marxist Sebastian Guillan or better known as Subcommandante Marcos. They wanted revolution in Mexico to then cause problems in the U.S.. These KGB and CPUSA dupes are now leading the White House and many departments. Their mission is for the U.S. to get out of anywhere they are at in the world. Notice too that Putin is using his proxies to advance his mission of filling the void when we leave countries. Notice Putin aids Iran who then aids Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and any group that is against Israel which then leads to Obama's real strategy in the Middle East: Aiding in the destruction of Israel, who he says "I have Israel's back," yes stabbing them in the back.

    January 7, 2014 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  10. FatSean

    Career military man. Apparently didn't read up on the history of Afghanistan.

    January 7, 2014 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  11. MrObvious

    This is not surprising to me at all. We the public all see it but most are just like congress and sit on our little soapbox platforms and attack all others who do not think like unto ourselves. Selfish little bitties wanting only our own agenda recognized. America is doomed if we fail to work in unison.

    January 7, 2014 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    thanks for telling the truth!

    January 7, 2014 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  13. js9840

    Thanks for telling the truth!

    January 7, 2014 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  14. Mike

    Well., I don't see how those comments are criticism.

    January 7, 2014 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  15. OldAsDirt

    "Officials believe Obama's foreign policy legacy is strong because of Osama bin Laden and his Afghanistan policies, and that Gates' accusations don't hurt with the Democratic base."

    His legacy is "strong" because of a lucky tip about bin Laden and with his political supporters because the military is not a favored limb of the Executive branch. I'd be much happier with a President who didn't send troops anywhere without majority support from Congress, and who told the world honestly "your problems aren't our responsibility". We've had a poser who declared premature victory followed by a paper tiger who the internationals know is all talk.

    "Strong" doesn't mean much any more.

    January 7, 2014 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  16. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Gates was Bush's flunky. Obama made the mistake of trusting him.

    January 7, 2014 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  17. Jerry

    Gates said "obama never believed in his strategy ". He never had faith in it. Don't soft peddle this CNN. This is a very big revelation from a sec of defense of a sitting president.

    January 7, 2014 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  18. dave

    It's hard for anyone to have faith in any war when republicans keep starting war after war and then refuse to pay for them, even asking for tax breaks for the rich while we are involved in several wars. It's down right unpatriotic, and like hating the troops. Worse, they continuously complain about the debt that was run up from all the wars, trillions. Even worse, they want to stop unemployment checks to those people who lost their jobs due to the recession they started, claiming it just adds to the debt they ran up for all the wars they started, and the recession they caused.

    January 7, 2014 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  19. AdoplhH

    1,2, 3 seconds before Barry defenders rush to defend the Liar in Chief.

    January 7, 2014 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  20. Just

    The O is continuing to demonstrate his incompetence and narcissism.

    January 7, 2014 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  21. 2020

    For one, those were Bush wars. For two, Gates was left over from Bush. There is no surprise.

    Obama mission was to end all wars before he was president elect, that was his vision, and Mr. Gates knew it full well before he accepted the Secretary job. Now Gates tries to square the circle, it won't work on Obama.

    Mr. Gates is a decent civil servant, and Obama holds true to his vision, both are highly respected. They are just different personalities, we respect that.

    Of course, sprinkle a few spice here and there will sell a few more books too. It is a tolerable strategy.

    January 7, 2014 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  22. 2020

    what is the surprise? none.
    Gates is republican, Democrat Obama said he would end all wars before he was president elect. He was elected to do what he has to do. nothing wrong with it.
    From another point of view, sprinkle a few spices will definitely help sell a few more books. That's all right.

    January 7, 2014 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  23. ...***...

    i kind of doubt anyone was overly thrilled about more wars (except the war profiteers). maybe all of these guys spent too much time together now.

    January 7, 2014 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  24. ...***...

    he's probably right about the last paragraph.

    January 7, 2014 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  25. NJD

    Whatever else, I can't disagree with Mr. Gates about Congress...

    January 7, 2014 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
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