Gates: Man, I hope the next president doesn’t surround himself with yes-men

posted at 7:21 pm on January 19, 2016 by Ed Morrissey

Golly, who might Robert Gates mean? Actually, the former Secretary of Defense doesn’t keep it very mysterious in this discussion of leadership at the highest levels. Joe Scarborough comes to the point at about the three-minute mark in this panel discussion, picked up by Jim Swift at The Weekly Standard:

GATES: You know, the president is quoted as having said at one point to his staff ‘I can do every one of your jobs better than you can.’ And I think that he has centralized power and operational activities of the government in the White House to a degree that is unparalleled. An NSC staff of 450 people at this point, and yet, I think one of the weaknesses of the White House is implementation of strategy — is difficulty in developing strategy and then implementing that strategy, and I don’t see the kind of strong people around the president who will push back on him. I will give him credit, I pushed back on him a lot, and he never shut me down, he never told me to be quiet or refused to see me or anything like that. But I don’t see people like that around him now.

Gates’ book A Passion for Leadership comes after his memoirs, which had considerable criticism for Obama, especially on long-range strategy, but some praise for his personal qualities, too. Gates also said that he agreed with Obama’s decisions on Afghanistan in particular. The disagreements appear mainly to have involved Iraq, and later events have proven Gates’ fears about a total withdrawal to be prescient.

This isn’t a revelation about Obama’s insularity, either. Quotes similar to the one Gates cites go all the way back to the 2007-8 election cycle, when Obama declared himself the best campaign consultant he had. Initially, Obama pledged to use a Lincolnian team-of-rivals model for his Cabinet and White House, but there isn’t much evidence of that materializing except possibly for Gates himself, a holdover from the Bush administration. Obama pushed out the one SecDef that truly gave him trouble, the overmatched Chuck Hagel, and the rest of Obama’s team has studiously carried the company line.

And that’s not exactly a departure from tradition, either. Presidents, especially in their second term, tend to get too insular for their own good. A president who wins his second term in office probably thinks pretty highly of his own opinions, and isn’t going to listen much to those who point out weaknesses. Those who dissent look for other work (and usually find great opportunities), leaving the true believers behind to stick it out to the end. People respond to incentives, after all, and in a second term they’re all oriented to those who have the most to offer looking for, well, offers.

It might be interesting to see what Gates’ book has to say about that, but any insights along those lines won’t have much to do with 2016. They might have more relevance in 2020.


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Comments

Too late you perfumed prince, too late for you.

I can’t stand idiots who speak up when it’s too late, after the take the higher pay.

Schadenfreude on January 19, 2016 at 7:27 PM

after the(y) take the higher pay.

SP just had you and your oaf for dinner, she’s still spittin’ you out.

Schadenfreude on January 19, 2016 at 7:28 PM

Wake up already

Schadenfreude on January 19, 2016 at 7:40 PM

Gates is praying he doesn’t get prosecuted by a Trump appointed US Attorney General.

oscarwilde on January 19, 2016 at 7:40 PM

ValJar’s not a man.

Fallon on January 19, 2016 at 7:41 PM

I worked as an architect for a custom home builder in the 2000’s. Smart guy for the most part, but as his team enabled him great success, he started to think a little too highly of his own skill set. I told him on more than one occasion and with great understanding of the potential damage I might be inflicting on my future there, that the moment he forgot what his -and the purpose of our firm was, would be the start of his tailspin to liquefaction. I imagine he scoffed at my advise as he was sailing his million dollar sailboat down the Chesapeake each weekend. I was gone about 6 months later.

His business of 20 years ended the following year.

The bank got his tens of millions of dollars in unsold and developing properties. And his sailboat.

BKeyser on January 19, 2016 at 7:43 PM

“Mr. Gates, just drop your resume in the box like everybody else.”

platypus on January 19, 2016 at 7:49 PM

Like yourself, Bobby?

LegendHasIt on January 19, 2016 at 7:49 PM

Incompetents always surround themselves with “Yes” men. That why they are incompetent. This is especially true with career politicians.

leader4hru on January 19, 2016 at 8:39 PM

According to the Inspector General of the Department of Defense, Obama requires FOREIGN MILITARY POWERS to get his approval of tactical, squad-level training of Iraqi troops.

“A senior Coalition leader reported that detailed, time-consuming requests for tactical and operational information from the highest levels of the US chain of command/levels of government were putting significant pressure on the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command – Iraq staff, impeding their ability to provide timely support to the Build Partner Capacity and Advise and Assist mission.”

The community activist is demanding that Danes, Germans, Canadians, and Spaniards clear tactical training with him first.

A Chair of Some Kind on January 19, 2016 at 9:43 PM

I worked as an architect for a custom home builder in the 2000’s. Smart guy for the most part, but as his team enabled him great success, he started to think a little too highly of his own skill set. I told him on more than one occasion and with great understanding of the potential damage I might be inflicting on my future there, that the moment he forgot what his -and the purpose of our firm was, would be the start of his tailspin to liquefaction. I imagine he scoffed at my advise as he was sailing his million dollar sailboat down the Chesapeake each weekend. I was gone about 6 months later.

His business of 20 years ended the following year.

The bank got his tens of millions of dollars in unsold and developing properties. And his sailboat.

BKeyser on January 19, 2016 at 7:43 PM

It’s always good to see a parallel in action.

Incompetents always surround themselves with “Yes” men. That why they are incompetent. This is especially true with career politicians.

leader4hru on January 19, 2016 at 8:39 PM

This is true, but the damage goes the other direction as well.
AS shown above, even the competent can descend to incompetence if they forget (by being surrounded by uncritical advisors) what makes them competent in the first place.
Sometimes a great leader can inspire ordinary people to rise to that level, but most (ordinary) good leaders depend on having good teams to support them.

AesopFan on January 19, 2016 at 11:28 PM