Nearly three years after Robert Gates stepped down as Obama’s defense secretary, he’s out with a new book that looks harshly at Washington, the Obama administration, and the president himself.
It’s rare for a high-ranking public official to write so candidly about an administration that’s still in power.
According to reviews and reports in the Washington Post and The New York Times, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” describes Gates’ run-ins with the White House inner-circle. He slams Washington’s dysfunctional political class. “I would listen with growing outrage as hypocritical and obtuse American senators made all these demands of Iraqi legislators and yet themselves could not even pass budgets,” he writes.
Gates, a widely-respected official who also served under George W. Bush, says Obama lost faith in the Afghanistan surge and his own war policy by 2011. He recounts a meeting where Obama allegedly expressed frustration over Gen. David Petraeus and Afghan President Hamad Karzai.
“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,” Gates wrote. “For him, it’s all about getting out.” He added, “I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for the mission.”
He also writes about Obama’s obsessive concern with leaks.
Still, the former defense secretary praises Obama’s high-stakes choice to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound as “one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed in the White House.”
As for the White House at large, Gates complains about staff who “took micromanagement and operational meddling to a new level.”
He writes: “The controlling nature of the Obama White House, and its determination to take credit for every good thing that happened while giving none to the career folks in the trenches who had actually done the work, offended Secretary Clinton as much as it did me.”
Gates has nothing but nice things to say about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “I found her smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world.”
Vice President Biden gets treated far more harshly. Though he calls Biden “a man of integrity,” Gates writes: “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Gates reserves his toughest criticism for D.C. lawmakers. “Congress is best viewed from a distance—the farther the better—because up close, it is truly ugly,” he writes. “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.”
The book quotes an email that the defense secretary sent to a friend: “People have no idea how much I detest this job.”
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden issued a response to reports about the book, saying that President Obama “deeply appreciates Bob Gates’ service as Secretary of Defense, and his lifetime of service to our country.”
“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,” the White House response says. “As has always been the case, the President welcomes differences of view among his national security team, which broaden his options and enhance our policies.”
The book will be released on January 14.