Jan 7, 2014
Top 10 Revelations From Robert Gates’s Memoir
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is releasing his memoir, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” a 600-page book that offers a stark, insider’s view of Washington, the Pentagon, Congress and America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (You can read an exclusive WSJ excerpt.) Here’s a look at some of the book’s most riveting revelations:
1. Contempt for Congress
Mr. Gates expresses open disdain for Congress and the way lawmakers treated him when he testified at hearings. “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.” Mr. Gates said he fantasized about storming out of hearings and quitting. “There is no son of a bitch in the world who can talk to me like that,” he writes of his fantasy.
2. Contempt for Vice President Biden
Mr. Gates expresses particular dissatisfaction with Vice President Joe Biden. He describes Mr. Biden as a “man of integrity” who “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Specifically, Mr. Gates said he opposed Mr. Biden’s proposed limited strategy in Afghanistan to focus on counter-terrorism: “Whac-A-Mole hits on Taliban leaders weren’t a long term strategy,” he writes.
3. Suspicion of White House Control
Mr. Gates described the White House and its national security team as too controlling and says that he found himself at odds with Mr. Obama’s inner circle. At one meeting in the Oval Office in 2011, Mr. Gates said he considered resigning because of the White House micromanagement and strategy. “I never confronted Obama directly over what I (as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta and others) saw as his determination that the White House tightly control every aspect of national security policy and even operations,” Mr. Gates writes. “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” in the 1970s.
4. Friction with the National Security Staff
In particular, Mr. Gates said he was incensed by the National Security Staff and their controlling nature. “Much of my conflicts with the Obama administration during the first two years weren’t over policy initiatives from the White House but rather the NSS’s micromanagement and operational meddling,” he writes. “For an NSS staff member to call a four-star combatant commander or field commander would have been unthinkable when I worked at the White House – and probably cause for dismissal. It became routine under Obama.”
5. White House vs. Pentagon
“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,” Mr Gates writes. In one meeting, Mr. Gates says that he challenged Mr. Biden and Thomas Donilon, then Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, when they tried to pass orders to him on behalf of the president. “The last time I checked, neither of you are in the chain of command,” Mr. Gates says he told the two men. Mr. Gates said he expected to deal directly with the president on such orders.
6. Mr. Gates as Peacemaker
Mr. Gates writes that “presidents confronted with tough policy problems abroad have too often been too quick to reach for a gun. Our foreign policy has become too militarized, the use of force too easy for presidents.” For too many people, he writes, “war has become a kind of videogame or action movie: bloodless, painless and odorless.”
7. The War in Iraq
On Iraq, Mr. Gates writes that he hoped to “stabilize the country so that when U.S. forces departed, the war wouldn’t be viewed as a strategic defeat for the U.S. or a failure with global consequences… Fortunately, I believe my minimalist goals were achieved in Iraq.” The book is coming out as al Qaeda forces have seized control of key Iraqi cities and the Iraqi government is struggling to uproot the militants.
8. The War in Afghanistan
Mr. Gates writes that Mr. Obama had early doubts about his decision in late 2009 to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. “I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for the mission,” he writes. Mr. Gates says that Mr. Obama was taken aback by a 2009 request from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, for a major military surge. “I think Obama and his advisers were incensed that the Department of Defense – specifically uniformed military – had taken control of the policy process from them and threatened to run away with it.”
9. Obama’s Domestic Politics
Mr. Gates says that domestic politics factored into “virtually every major national security problem” the Obama White House faced. At one point, Mr. Gates writes, he witnessed a conversation between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton in which the president “conceded vaguely” that his opposition to the 2007 military surge in Iraq was a political calculation. Mr. Gates called the exchange “remarkable.”
10. Hatred for D.C.
Mr. Gates writes that his reputation for having an even temper often masked his outrage and contempt. “I did not enjoy being secretary of defense,” he writes.