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. fuzzback

    Is it just me, or does all this just make Obama look better?

    January 8, 2014 08:08 am at 8:08 am |
  2. James

    Are we suprised? Obama made his case known publicly from 2008. He only stuck it out as long as he has because the experts (not his advisors who have no proper experience for their job) told him of the dire consequences if he just picked up and left.

    A man with no clue of what the job was when he got in there.

    January 8, 2014 08:09 am at 8:09 am |
  3. bassman

    Talk about a thin-skinned President.

    January 8, 2014 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  4. Jered

    Gates = Transparent sour grapes.

    January 8, 2014 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  5. RWB1956

    Of course, only the bad parts about President Obama, Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden will be repeated over and over by certain groups and nothing will be said about Congress's behavior. I'm almost sure by tonight even Gates won't recognize his actual quotes as they will have been enhanced. Let the attack on my Freedom of Speech begin. Have a nice day.

    January 8, 2014 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  6. wny716

    Gates can criticize Obama all he wants, but it was not Obama that got us into Afghanistan and Iraq. It is Obama that got us out of Iraq and will get us out of Afghanistan. He should have voiced his concern before the wars started.

    January 8, 2014 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  7. carlin123

    Of course it was failing. It was doomed from the start. The only way to succeed would be for the U.S. to stay in Afghanistan for 100 years. Bring them all home NOW!

    January 8, 2014 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  8. OldSalt

    "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 as he did that the President and his staff were deficient, he would have had an obligation to resign." No, we are under no such obligation. If we were obligated to resign every time we felt our commanding officers were deficient, we would cut the officer corps in half.

    January 8, 2014 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  9. KeninNC

    Unfortunately, Bill Gates problem is that he has entirely too much common sense to deal with the imbeciles in Washington. Federal, state or local suffers from the same problem and this probably will be our undoing.

    January 8, 2014 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  10. cedaly1968

    I find it interesting that Sec. Gates criticized Obama for losing faith in the war in Afghanistan when pretty much the entire American people lost faith in the war in Afghanistan. The problem facing America when dealing with countries like Afghanistan or Iraq or Syria is that we are unwilling to go to war in a manner that satisfies the national conscience. What I mean by that is we are trying to fight a war that says, "Well these guys are the good guys and these guys are the bad guys and we will beat the bad guys and build up the good guys." That is not how WWII was fought and won. I am sure there were very many Germans, Japanese, and Italians who were "good guys" and they died right next to the "bad guys" when we bombed the Axis into oblivion. In the end, it is the responsibility of the citizens of a country to control the actions of their government. If you stand by and watch your government shelter terrorists who then attack another country, you are no more innocent than those who attacked the other country. Until the United States can have the courage to get back to a doctrine of unconditional surrender and total occupation, we should stay out of regional conflicts. The only other outcome will be a country that falls into chaos after we leave. See Iraq. See Libya. See Egypt. See Afghanistan.

    January 8, 2014 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  11. Peter

    Gates previously has had bad things to say about President Bush's leadership as well.

    Which is proof positive that PARTY has nothing to do with how competent a President is, unlike what most team fanboys will post on this and other boards.

    January 8, 2014 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  12. roccotaco

    Is this the best we can do--Bush, Obama, Clinton. Then man we are a stupid people. Bush now paints child like pictures of his toes while taking a bath. He should be totally ashamed of all the young people missing their limbs when this clown sent them into a bad military adventure but he thinks history will judge him to be right-bad man. Obama and Hillary have done many things that now appear to be extremely stupid or totally political and I am ashamed of them also. Surely to goodness there is a decent democrat somewhere to run.

    January 8, 2014 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  13. LN

    Mr. Gates: You are correct about "any defense facility or contract in their district or state, no matter how superfluous or wasteful, was sacrosanct,"

    January 8, 2014 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  14. JC

    "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"

    In other words, the president believes what a majority of the American public does?

    January 8, 2014 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  15. geraldine

    I got news for Gates the American people have no faith in either the Iraq or Afghanistan wars! This is news?

    January 8, 2014 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  16. ggggg

    Wait there was a straegy? The military has bungled this one from day one. The apparently though we were there to occupy the country forever.

    January 8, 2014 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  17. sifto

    Watch the WH smear this military man who they praised during his tenure–he will suffer the same fate as Gen Petraus for disagreeing with the One...

    January 8, 2014 08:37 am at 8:37 am |
  18. jinx9to88

    Really this is news? Next you will have an article stating Obama "sticks his already chewed gum under his desk". Come on CNN is this the best you can do? There is a coke head representative out of Florida that didn't see any prison time for getting busted for trying to buy cocaine and you give us this article. There are thousands of Americans sitting behind bars in prison for what Radal did and this is all you got?

    January 8, 2014 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  19. Pete

    How long before the IRS starts auditing Gates' returns? The Chicago thugs in the White House won't let this stand.

    January 8, 2014 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  20. the horror of it all....

    Hey NEWSFLASH to all the Republicans...MOST Americans are TIRED of war ...MOST Americans want the troops to come home... psssst, we should NEVER have been in Iraq to begin with.... new idea: let's deal with domestic problems FIRST... But i guess Gates needs to sell books– funny how he never mentioned some of the Pentagon stuff until now– apparently his counterparts over there are steaming... but let's sell MORE books ( yeeha)... and dump on Democrats who want the US out of wars– hurts the profitable war machine that pays Gates now....guy is such a hypocrite....Hyperbole sells to a bored and confused public...BTW real estate in NYC in now off the charts– apartments selling for 50,60, 90 MILLION dollars–firemen, policemen, teachers, hospital workers can't afford to live in the city any longer– but let's listen to millionaire Gates cry about Obama...

    January 8, 2014 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  21. Michael, Chapel Hill

    When the administration is run by hard core leftists Americans cannot expect more. President was much bothered about domestic policies because he wanted to be re elected. He not bothered aobut US but about power and CHANGE. He will change Amreica more that it will never come back to normal. Class war, income inequality, political correctness, abortion rights, redefining family and marriage etc..It is not strange that Gaes did not fin the President or any helpful in wars.

    January 8, 2014 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  22. TSB8C

    Obama has never had any foreign policy. He simply bounces around from one event to another, always in crisis mode. He argued against the "surge" in Afghanistan while a senator, and then praised it as a success once he was Prez. He is a complete loser with absolutely no experience whatsoever and his repeated failures are well known around the globe. That is why Putin was able to flaunt him on Iran, Karzai is flaunting him with the security agreement in Afghanistan, China is currently flaunting him with their no-fly zone, nothing has been done to track down or even get at the real truth of Benghazi, and more.

    January 8, 2014 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  23. stambo

    Seems that in most issues we hear a complaint about the 'civilian advisers' that surround Obama. Who's really the President is the question? It was being surround 'by gay couples at the White House' that reversed his stand on gay marriage as an example. The wrong people have influence on the sitting President of the United States of America and unfortunately he's too much of a wet noodle to do anything about it.

    January 8, 2014 08:43 am at 8:43 am |
  24. Woody's Hay

    Hmm ... Bush's (who?) handpicked guy to succeed Rumsfeld attacking Obama? How unusual. And loss of faith in Petraeus? You mean like when MoveOn.org asked the simple question "Will he (Petraeus) Betrayus?" (And later, P, another Bush appointee, exposed as having an affair ... but since it was revealed under Obama, it wasn't 43's fault – 43who?).

    January 8, 2014 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  25. Lee Simek

    Political power should be used wisely. Seems both sides are in the fray.....one thing is for certain. Our nation will carry with it a terrible burden for those serving in Iraq and Afgan. President Obama said he would end the war,,,,,he hasnt,,,,,he said Americans would have excellent affordable health care,,,,,it isnt.......failure, failure, failure,,,,thats what Americans are used to now. And yet congress does nothing.

    January 8, 2014 08:46 am at 8:46 am |
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