RSS
5 takeaways from Robert Gates' explosive new memoir
Harsh words for Obama — and some harsh words for Clinton and Biden, too
And we thought they were friends.
And we thought they were friends. (Alex Wong, Brendan Smialowski-Pool/Getty Images)
P

resident Obama quickly lost faith in his own strategy for a troop surge in Afghanistan even as he continued to tout the plan in public, according to former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who led the Pentagon during the first two years of Obama's tenure.

The accusation comes in Gates' forthcoming memoir, Duties: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, which offers an intensely critical peek into the Obama administration.

Gates — who held the same role under President George W. Bush — has criticized Obama since leaving the White House, but the memoir goes much further in questioning the president's leadership. As the Washington Post's Bob Woodward — one of the first to detail the book's contents — put it: "It is rare for a former cabinet member, let alone a defense secretary occupying a central position in the chain of command, to publish such an antagonistic portrait of a sitting president."

Here, five big takeaways from the memoir:

Obama didn't believe in the Afghan surge
Obama campaigned in 2008 on a promise to pull troops from Iraq and instead focus America's war effort on Afghanistan. In late 2009, under pressure from the U.S. military, he sent an additional 30,000 troops to help stabilize the country, before they were gradually withdrawn in subsequent years.

Yet Gates writes that, by early 2011, he determined that Obama had already turned against the strategy. According to Gates, Obama opened a March National Security Council meeting by heavily criticizing his military advisers and the progress being made in Afghanistan.

"As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn't trust his commander, can't stand [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn't believe in his own strategy, and doesn't consider the war to be his," Gates writes. "For him, it's all about getting out."

"I never doubted Obama's support for the troops," he adds, "only his support for their mission."

Obama and Clinton opposed the Iraq surge because of the election
In the run-up to the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, both Obama and Hillary Clinton came out against the 2007 troop surge in Iraq, which was partially credited with bringing the country back from the brink of civil war. However, Gates writes that they later admitted to doing so out of political calculation.

"Hillary told the president that her opposition to the surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary," he 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."

Gates didn't agree with Biden or Obama's top advisers
Gates writes that Vice President Joe Biden is a "a man of integrity." However, he says that doesn't mean Biden was right when it came to policy — any policy, ever.

"I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades," Gates writes.

As for Thomas Donilon, Obama's former national security advisor, and other senior foreign policy advisers in the White House, Gates says they often engaged in "aggressive, suspicious, and sometimes condescending and insulting questioning of our military leaders."

Gates has previously said he warned Obama that appointing Donilon would be a "disaster." He goes further in the memoir though, saying that the appointment of non-military personnel to advise Obama on matters of war resulted in a "controlling nature" that "took micromanagement and operational meddling to a new level."

He adds, "[Obama's] 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.”

Gates hated his job
The memoir is reportedly littered with anecdotes about how much Gates came to loathe working in the Obama administration. But even before that, he apparently wasn't so keen on working in the White House, period.

"I remember sitting at the witness table listening to this litany of woe and thinking, 'What the hell am I doing here?'" Gates writes of his confirmation hearing in 2006 to be Bush's defense secretary. "'I have walked right into the middle of a category-five shitstorm.'"

Gates says he wanted to quit his job in September 2009 after a contentious White House meeting on Afghan policy, though he never told anyone. And he says almost quit again in late 2010, though Obama convinced him to stick around for a few more months.

"People have no idea how much I detest this job," he wrote to a friend.

Part of the reason: Dysfunction in Congress, which he says "wore me down, especially as I tried to maintain a public posture of nonpartisan calm, reason, and conciliation."

Obama wanted to aggressively pursue leaks
The president was so concerned with classified information leaking to the press, according to Gates, that within a month of taking office he wanted to launch a criminal investigation over the New York Times' reports on the administration's Iran policy.

"Only the president would acknowledge to me he had problems with leaks in his own shop," Gates writes.

Jon Terbush is a staff writer for TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week