Former defense secretary doesn’t hold back in coming memoir
President Barack Obama and outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates salute during a ceremony June 30, 2011, honoring Gates' time at the Pentagon.
WASHINGTON —Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has written his memoir, detailing his time under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. It isn’t pretty.
According to a New York Times review, Gates writes that President Barack Obama 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.
In a new memoir to be published Jan. 14 by Alfred A. Knopf, Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration who served for two years under Obama, praises the president as a rigorous thinker who frequently made decisions “opposed by his political advisers or that would be unpopular with his fellow Democrats.” But Gates also writes that by 2011, Obama began expressing his own criticism of the way his strategy in Afghanistan was playing out.
Gates had said that he would be frank, noting through his publisher that his book would recount “my political war with Congress each day I was in office … and the dramatic contrast between my public respect, bipartisanship, and calm, and my private frustration, disgust, and anger.”
Gates writes that at a pivotal meeting in the situation room in March 2011, Obama opened with a blast of frustration over his Afghan policy — expressing doubts about Gen. David Petraeus, the commander he had chosen, and questioning whether he could do business with the Afghan president, Hamid 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,” he writes. “For him, it’s all about getting out.”
“Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” is the first book describing those years written from inside the cabinet.
Other items highlighted by the Times:
- Vice President Joseph Biden is “a man of integrity,” but questions his judgment. “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
- Gates almost quit after a dispute-filled meeting with White House advisers over Afghan policy in September 2009. “I was deeply uneasy with the Obama White House’s lack of appreciation — from the top down — of the uncertainties and unpredictability of war,” he recalls. “I came closer to resigning that day than at any other time in my tenure, though no one knew it.”
- The former defense secretary holds the George W. Bush administration responsible for misguided policy that squandered the early victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, although he credits Bush for ordering a troop surge in Iraq that contributed to averting collapse of the mission.
- Gates initially opposed sending Special Operations forces to attack a housing compound in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, was believed to be hiding. Gates writes that Obama’s approval for the Navy SEAL mission, despite strong doubts that bin Laden even was there, was “one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed in the White House.”
- In private, members of Congress could be calm, thoughtful and insightful. “But when they went into an open hearing, and the little red light went on atop a television camera, it had the effect of a full moon on a werewolf.”
- The military services were too focused on protecting their own budgets and future missions, and he describes how he had to break traditional procurement chains to rush armored vehicles to troops to protect them from improvised explosives, additional helicopters to evacuate the wounded and more drones for surveillance.