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. william reed

    What the hell did Gates expect? Obama , before he became president, campaigned against U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile Bush, Cheny, Rumsfeld and the neocons insisted o ratcheting up the wars, implementing troop surges with the aim of overcoming native insurgency. Didn't happen. Won't happen. Meanwhile over 6,000 U.S. GIs have been killed, thousands more maimed and injured, and for what? So Gates and the military can thump chests and say we can beat these raghead barbarians with the MIGHTY U.S. MILITARY! Ain;t gonna happen anymore, Jack.

    January 7, 2014 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  2. John Tater

    I believe he is right on in regard to congressmen putting their careers ahead of the country. That is the major cancer on our democracy. On Afghanistan, I have always believed that Obama saw (accurately, in my opinion) there was nothing to gain from having our troops patrolling through Afghan villages year after year, but he could not call for an immediate, total withdrawal because the Republicans kept him under fire for being soft on terrorism.

    January 7, 2014 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  3. PSYmuffin

    I respect your courage..............thank you Mr. Gates.

    January 7, 2014 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  4. G. T. Simpson

    Just further proof we have an amateur in the White House!

    January 7, 2014 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  5. gee

    Did Gates consult Snowden on what to publish?

    January 7, 2014 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  6. haddock

    As well he should have. We just need to get everyone else out of there now.

    January 7, 2014 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  7. Leopeter

    Seldom is the truth heard in the tell all books......the only purpose is to
    Sell the book. Shame on Gates

    January 7, 2014 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  8. KC Yankee

    Another General selling a book.

    January 7, 2014 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  9. tarura

    Beware of commies. Kchrushchev once said that communism will hang the capitalism using the rope bought on credit from the capitalists. With the national debt driven by the gov and approaching $17.5T it seems things are going this direction very fast

    January 7, 2014 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  10. scooter65

    sounds like he hit the nail right on the head! by telling the truth he pissed a lot of people off. Maybe this needs to happen more often......

    January 7, 2014 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  11. Chris

    I believe Obama has all of his faith in those Muslims in the Middle East and he's trying his best to do his part to help them.

    January 7, 2014 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  12. Tim

    Obama minions try to defend him? Pathetic. Obama is a disgrace. Period.

    January 7, 2014 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  13. Publius1787

    Right on!!!! Here is the truth of how President Obama is truly emasculating the Armed Forces for political gain. From his ill conceived Iraq withdrawal for popular gain to his ignorant decision on lifting the ban on females for combat roles this man will erode the fighting strength of the military. The US has new concerns in the form of an antagonistic China, despotic RUssia, and a posturing nuclear prone Iran. And yet he cannot give America the military it needs to protect its interests around the world. His actions will create a backlash from the American people that will elect a conservative president that will be worse than George W. Bush.

    January 7, 2014 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  14. SFC Mike

    Not being able to stand Karzai shouldn't be considered negative.

    January 7, 2014 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  15. z2cents

    war strategy..was there ever one?

    January 7, 2014 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  16. JIMMY

    I've got this one Pres hold up!!!... hey!!! My man Obama promised to end that war, so his motives have not or ever been in question... it's that simple. I think Mr war man got his feelings hurt when my Man Obama didn't let him play his war games. You Mr Obama sir are the President of the hour ...that war man is not and will never be.

    Love you man!

    January 7, 2014 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  17. John

    Thank you Mr. Gates for telling it as you see it ! Many of us feel the same but lack the experience to back up our feelings. You have the experience w/ congress and the POTUS to say these words and back them up by personal experience.

    January 7, 2014 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  18. Probir Paul

    Thank you Mr. secretary Gates. You are the real hero. you put the county above all those phony politician' Who only think about their next term.

    January 7, 2014 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  19. young_tennis

    The problem is not that Mr. Obama doesn't know a lot. The problem is that he pretends he knows a lot.

    January 7, 2014 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  20. comen

    This is all CNN got out of the book!!! A bunch of pro-democrat party spin?!?! Disgusting. There is no wondering why CNN continues to loose credibility.

    January 7, 2014 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  21. Carl

    Why does the link take you to the White House's response to the criticism?

    January 7, 2014 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |


    January 7, 2014 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  23. Jack Lehr

    I will read this book. I know several service people who respect the man. I remember one thing though. In 1988-89 the A-10 "Warthog" was on the chopping block because it had never been used in combat. Then comes Desert Storm and the A-10's role is historical fact. The F-22, expensive like every fighter America has ever made, was cancelled by Gates/Obama because "it has not been used in either Afghanistan or Iraq". Was a plane like the f-22 needed when the enemy had no modern air force? There were no front line modern fighters used by the enemy. What if we get into a shooting war with the Chinese over those Japanese Islands? Spending all that money and making a miracle plane that does more than was even hoped for – to then not even build them in any numbers will go down as an historical mistake.

    January 7, 2014 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  24. Carson Thaler

    I wouldn't support the mission either. It was a farcical sham arranged by his predecessor...

    January 7, 2014 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  25. J.V.Hodgson

    In respect to the American people we should all let them decide if they read Gates book whether he is glory hunting or just ensuring his book sells well with some juicy sound bites.
    That said for me ( and I would guess a lot of others) the comments in this blog about congress deserve far more space and discussion especially the oversight he and others are subjected.
    It hits a right why congress has the extremely poor rating it does.

    January 7, 2014 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
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