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. Scarface86

    "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." Really. Since when has it been the military's job to rebuild a government. The military's job is to defeat our enemies. Blame the politicians, not the military.

    January 8, 2014 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  2. Timekeeper

    Mr. Gates comments are fine for some movie star but reflect poorly for someone of his previous stature. His opinions regarding the inner workings of government should remain confidential. His comments lack any sign of professionalism or integreity. It is amazing that he harbors so much anger. One can only wonder if he is having mental problems.

    January 8, 2014 08:49 am at 8:49 am |
  3. John

    fuzzback, it is not just you. Obama 'supporting the troops but not their mission' is a clear sign of rational and compassionate thinking. I wonder why Republican Senator Jeff Flake finds this book release 'extraordinarily bad timing?' Perhaps he thinks it not useful in the year we quit Afghanistan. Or maybe he too thinks this makes Obama look good, and that's not good for the GOP in a year of mid-terms.

    January 8, 2014 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  4. Yes1fan

    I wonder how much of an advance Gates received from the Koch Bros. for these comments?

    January 8, 2014 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  5. akis vassilleiou

    the point is not to have a war. if someone likes wars then better go fight in person and not just tell other people to go fight for him/her. especially when war is not about keeping our borders safe but about helping lobbies to do bussiness.

    January 8, 2014 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  6. Mr_Blunder

    For Obama to think this Afghanistan blunder has no end just shows he is very intelligent and unlike his predecessor, knows this is an unattainable goal. And he's correct, it's not his war but it is his responsibility to get the US out.

    January 8, 2014 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  7. Rick

    It's time for the Neo-Nazi's of the Republican Party to start their drum banging. We'll never hear the end of these "horrible" actions by the President. Even though all of this megalomania nonsense is coming from a man who never challenged the President when working for him. A person who didn't have the cojones to stand up and disagree while he was working with the Presidential team. Never trust a person who says you can count on him when he works for you and then stabs you in the back as soon as he is out the door. That's just common sense.

    January 8, 2014 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  8. yankquest

    Gee, how about that. A President who doesn't believe in war. About damn time I'd say....

    January 8, 2014 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  9. Mrs. Davis

    You mean the president actually got it that the American people don't think these wars were a) necessary and b) worth their children's lives? And I might add, the public doesn't think they can be won. What a revelation this is. I'm with Obama. Get the hell out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    January 8, 2014 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  10. marktwain2

    Robert Gates proves his own ignorance of these recent senseless wars where we have sacrificed thousands of our young soldiers and millions of innocent civilians. We have unintentionally promoted the al Qaeda to infiltrate other areas where they were not welcome before.

    January 8, 2014 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  11. Sam

    The story title is as kind as could be – more like Obama war strategy was political to get him elected. Once in office he was half hearted, at best as he didn't believe the drivel he spouted on the campaign trail (re: the "good" war). Actions speak louder than words and make no mistake he wasn't into winning "the important war".

    January 8, 2014 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  12. ItSoNlYmE

    Gates berates the President because he says Obama didn't have any passion for the war. Well DUH!! Y'think? Gates should have been booted on Obama's inauguration day.

    January 8, 2014 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  13. Rudy NYC

    Gates is out of line. But, hey. He's a Republican, which means it's okay. People usually wait a couple of years after the administration that they have retired from has left office before they become critical of it. Seeing how Gates was brought on board by the Bush administration, I suppose that he's met that standard in his mind.

    But, I think that the press is paying undue attention to comments critical of Biden, Clinton, and Obama. Gates' comments critical of the abusive treatment at hearings is no less volatile. I wonder who he was talking about.

    January 8, 2014 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  14. mike

    He will respond like he always does. He will just deny knowing anything about the strategy we were using for the war and therefore it is not his fault. And good luck finding any credible allies on the outside to discredit Gates, Anyone worth anything knows that O bummer is a worthless as a Commander in Chief and just wants to destroy the military from within.

    January 8, 2014 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  15. Observer

    Its not really shocking that Obama lost faith in his policy... I lost faith in it many moons ago.

    January 8, 2014 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  16. mike

    And who cares what Flake says. He is not a friend of the military either after voting on the current budget denying benefits to those who serve. Maybe if he and that other moron from AZ McStain (a vet himself) would stand up to O bummer maybe the country can get back to prosperity.

    January 8, 2014 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  17. fedupwithamericanpolitics

    It's time for the Usa to pull it's troops out of all countries. America is becoming a failed state and is an Oligarchy. We don't have the money here for public education, health care, infrastructure and are trillions in debt. The Insurance Companies, Wall Street Banks, Big Pharma and Big Oil have wound up with 99% of the money. The Working Class and Middle class are sliding into oblivion. The War for Profit game is no longer sustainable. As it stands america's best days are long behind us.

    January 8, 2014 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  18. Krenwinkle

    If Obama had no faith in the so-called military experts and distrusted Karzai, it only shows that this once he showed good judgment. That said, if anybody thinks the US is leaving Afghanistan while there is the TAPPI pipeline project, they are sadly mistaken. Not this year, not any year, not with a Republican in the White House, nor a Democrat. And if anyone thinks the invasion of Afghanistan really had anything to do with 9/11... Buy Brooklyn Bridge now, ask me how!

    January 8, 2014 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  19. drake mallard

    The study’s conclusions were further reinforced when former Bush White House press secretary Scott McClellan wrote, “top Bush aides had outlined a strategy for carefully orchestrating the coming campaign to aggressively sell the war… In the permanent campaign era, it was all about manipulating sources of public opinion to the president’s advantage.”

    According to the study, then President George W Bush made 232 false statements about Iraq and former leader Saddam Hussein’s possessing weapons of mass destruction, and 28 false statements about Iraq’s links to al Qaeda.

    “President George W. Bush and seven of his administration’s top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq…

    On at least 532 separate occasions, Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both.”

    On July 2004, the Republican majority led Senate Select Committee released the Intelligence Senate Report on Iraqi WMD Intelligence, which identified numerous failures in intelligence gathering and “analysis” (i.e., interpretation). However, Republicans defended the Bush administration’s statements on Iraq.

    An investigation into the administration’s use of the intelligence was delayed for three years due to Republicans claiming it wasn’t as important (Senator Roberts, R-KS) as other pending items. Phase two of the investigation was released in 2007, but not all of the report was released. It determined, “our Committee has concluded that the Administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence.”

    January 8, 2014 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  20. lmason

    So President Obama campaigned on ending the war in Iraq, (done). he vowed to end the war in Afghanistan (U.S troops draw down has begun), he ordered the killing of (osama bin laden) and many other heads of Al kita, and George W Bush, started an unnecessary war, Katrina, and had taken down none of the people who bombed us on 9-11, so i will take his option any day

    January 8, 2014 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  21. GenPatton

    I foresee a Vince Foster moment for Mr. Gates. What a shame for telling the truth.

    January 8, 2014 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  22. Alan

    The problem to me is that he sent men and women in harms way to be killed without himself believing in what he was doing. That is sad. I doubt Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan, or Bush I or two felt that way in the beginning of actions. Nixon inherited Vietnam but worked to end the war but never did he not support his troops. By contrast Johnson and Obama were and are the worst offenders of dereliction of duty as commander and chief.

    January 8, 2014 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  23. geraldine

    Gates accomplished zero..yawn....this is news?

    January 8, 2014 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  24. rockysfan

    Gates – Obama didn't lose faith in the war strategy, he wanted it done. He campaigned on that stance. What, are you deaf dumb and blind or the typical DC crony out to make your bucks now that your are done. 15 minutes of fame? Takes all kinds now doesn't it.

    January 8, 2014 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  25. ru serious

    Just wait, our Political-Hack-In-Chief President and his cronies will launch a campaign against Gates, that's what they do best. Thanks ignorant voters for voting for this incompetent clown TWICE. Have news for you, if you do not support the mission, then you do not support the troops!

    January 8, 2014 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
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