Robert Gates' New Book Excoriates Obama, Pentagon, Congress

Tuesday, 07 Jan 2014 10:30 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates felt "at war with everybody" in Washington during his tenure — appalled by the Obama administration's "micromanagement," the Pentagon's "inertia," and Congress' "parochial self-interest," he wrote Tuesday in an essay in the Wall Street Journal that was adapted from his new book.

Gates' "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War," due out Jan. 14, ripped the Obama administration, charging that President Barack Obama lost faith in his own policies in the war in Afghanistan, according to advance reports on the book published in the Washington Post and the New York Times on Tuesday.

In his Journal essay, which the newspaper said was adapted from his book, Gates said his disdain was shared by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"Most of my conflicts with the Obama administration during the first two years weren't over policy initiatives from the White House but rather the [national security staff]'s micromanagement and operational meddling, which I routinely resisted," he wrote.

"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 said he and Clinton also shared disdain for White House micromanagement of national security policy.

"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," Gates wrote. "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."

Oddly, Gates found similarities between President George W. Bush, for whom he also served in the Pentagon, and Obama.

"Both were most comfortable around a coterie of close aides and friends . . . and largely shunned the Washington social scene," he wrote. "Both, I believe, detested Congress and resented having to deal with it, including members of their own party . . .  Nor did either work much at establishing close personal relationships with other world leaders. Both presidents, in short, seemed aloof from two constituencies important to their success."

There were also stark differences, he said. Obama, though "respectful of senior officers," was "deeply suspicious of their actions and recommendations," he wrote. "Bush seemed to enjoy the company of the senior military; I think Obama considered time spent with generals and admirals an obligation."

Like reports of his main criticism of the Obama White House, Gates' essay also ripped the president's rhetoric for ending the war in Afghanistan, charging it didn't match his "political and philosophical preferences."

"His fundamental problem in Afghanistan was that his political and philosophical preferences for winding down the U.S. role conflicted with his own pro-war public rhetoric (especially during the 2008 campaign), the nearly unanimous recommendations of his senior civilian and military advisers at the departments of State and Defense, and the realities on the ground," Gates complained.

Asking himself why he felt "constantly at war with everybody," Gates wrote:

"It was because . . . I also had to battle the bureaucratic inertia of the Pentagon, surmount internal conflicts within both [the Bush and Obama] administrations, avoid the partisan abyss in Congress, evade the single-minded parochial self-interest of so many members of Congress and resist the magnetic pull exercised by the White House, especially in the Obama administration, to bring everything under its control and micromanagement. Over time, the broad dysfunction of today's Washington wore me down," Gates wrote.

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