The former defense secretary writes that Obama “eventually 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,” reports The NYT, which obtained an early copy of the memoir.
In a passage about a key meeting in March of 2011, Gates writes that “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. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”
Obama, after months of contentious discussion with Gates and other top advisers, deployed 30,000 more troops in a final push to stabilize Afghanistan before a phased withdrawal beginning in mid-2011. “I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” Gates writes.
As a candidate, Obama had made plain his opposition to the 2003 Iraq invasion while embracing the Afghanistan war as a necessary response to the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, requiring even more military resources to succeed. In Gates’s highly emotional account, Obama remains uncomfortable with the inherited wars and distrustful of the military that is providing him options. Their different worldviews produced a rift that, at least for Gates, became personally wounding and impossible to repair.
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.
Gates also writes that “I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” the Post reports.
The Times reports that Gates also has critical things to say about Vice President Biden, Obama’s national security staff, Congress, and President George W. Bush, who first appointed Gates as defense secretary.
Biden is “a man of integrity,” Gates writes, but “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
The national security staff is “filled primarily by former Hill staffers, academics and political operatives,” and has engaged in “micromanagement of military matters — a combination that had proven disastrous in the past,” writes Gates, according to theTimes.
The newspaper notes that Gates considers many members of Congress to be calm and thoughtful in public, “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.”
“Mr. Gates is a bipartisan critic of the two presidents he served as defense secretary, George W. Bush and Mr. Obama. He holds the Bush administration responsible for misguided policy that squandered the early victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, although he credits Mr. Bush for ordering a troop surge in Iraq that contributed to averting collapse of the mission. …
“Mr. Gates does not spare himself from criticism, going beyond the typical political autobiography designed to sell as a kiss-and-tell narrative or to burnish a questionable legacy.
“He describes how he came to feel ‘an overwhelming sense of personal responsibility’ for the troops he ordered into combat, which left him misty-eyed when discussing their sacrifices and perhaps clouded his judgment when coldhearted national security interests were at stake.”