Oh My: Robert Gates Memoir Slams Obama Administration, Confirms WH's Political Obsession

Posted: Jan 07, 2014 4:22 PM

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates serves up several devastating accounts and assessments of the Obama administration in a forthcoming book, alleging that the White House's approach to foreign policy and national security was dominated by political considerations. Gates -- who has worked for every president since Richard Nixon, save for Bill Clinton -- served as Obama's Defense Secretary from 2009 to mid-2011. The Washington Post's Bob Woodward reports on the contents of "Duty," which is due for release later this month:

Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.” Obama, after months of contentious discussion with Gates and other top advisers, deployed 30,000 more troops in a final push to stabilize Afghanistan before a phased withdrawal beginning in mid-2011. “I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” Gates writes.

That mission was ordered by Obama himself. Why would Obama put 30,000 additional troops in harm's way to carry out an effort he believed would fail? The most plausible explanation is that he wanted to appear muscular by signaling support for the Afghanistan war -- which Democrats had long cast as the "good war," vis-a-vis Iraq. "We took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan," etc. This revelation isn't necessarily a surprise, but it's still profoundly jarring to read in black and white from such a credible source. According to Woodward, Gates also writes that he became frustrated by top White House officials' suspicious and disrespectful attitude toward senior military leaders. He includes a damning story about President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussing their Iraq war posturing:

“All too early in the [Obama] administration,” he writes, “suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials — including the president and vice president — became a big problem for me as I tried to manage the relationship between the commander in chief and his military leaders.” Gates offers a catalogue of various meetings, based in part on notes that he and his aides made at the time, including an exchange between Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that he calls “remarkable.” He writes: “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. .?.?. 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.”

As a presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama inaccurately predicted that the US military's Iraq surge would make matters worse. Sen. Hillary Clinton later grilled Gen. David Petraeus over the policy, stating that his assessment of its results required a "willing suspension of disbelief." Gates, who is widely respected and trusted across the political spectrum in Washington, now states that both former Senators privately acknowledged that they were playing cynical politics with the war effort. In other passages, Gates seethes over "breaches of faith" by the president, including getting sandbagged on 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' and budgetary matters. He also expresses exasperation over his perception that far too often, politics reigned supreme in Obamaworld:

In a battle over defense spending, “I was extremely angry with President Obama,” Gates writes. “I felt he had breached faith with me . . . on the budget numbers.” As with “don’t ask, don’t tell,” “I felt that agreements with the Obama White House were good for only as long as they were politically convenient.” Gates acknowledges forthrightly in “Duty” that he did not reveal his dismay. “I never confronted Obama directly over what I (as well as [Hillary] Clinton, [then-CIA Director Leon] Panetta, and others) saw as the president’s determination that the White House tightly control every aspect of national security policy and even operations. His White House was by far the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost.” It got so bad during internal debates over whether to intervene in Libya in 2011 that Gates says he felt compelled to deliver a “rant” because the White House staff was “talking about military options with the president without Defense being involved.”

Gates singles out certain members of the administration for especially intense criticism, including Vice President Joe Biden, whom he describes as being wrong on "nearly every" foreign policy issue in the last 40 years. Stephen Hayes sums up the two biggest takeaways from Woodward's report:

Gates surely knows that his candid appraisals will be met with a barrage of furious calumny from Democratic loyalists. His account confirms several of conservatives' worst suspicions about Obama's leadership style and the White House's hyper-partisan modus operandi.

UPDATE - A provocative question from Ed Morrissey:

On one hand, yes -- if Gates had come forward with his views prior to the election, they may have been useful to voters. On the other, the timing of this release makes it harder for Democrats to excoriate Gates as a politically-motivated hatchet man -- although the smear attempts have already begun.

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