If what Gates tell us isn’t particularly new, it still packs a punch coming from such a highly placed, credible source. For Obama, Afghanistan is the insincere war. More than 1,500 troops have died there during his time in office—almost three times as many as under Bush —yet by early 2011 the president had lost whatever faith he had in the war, according to Gates.
In the telling of his former secretary of defense, Obama violated what should be the psychological Powell Doctrine: If you don’t believe in it, don’t fight it…
As reported in the press, Gates describes a dawning realization at a March 2011 meeting in the situation room. “As I sat there,” he writes, “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. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
This is the war that the president and other Democrats had long hailed as “the good war.”
“You say about President Obama that as much as you admired him on so many levels, he never really had a passion for pursuing the war in Afghanistan, and that kind of bothered you,” said Braver.
“It’s one thing to tell the troops that you support them. It’s another to work at making them believe that you believe as president that their sacrifice is worth it, that the cause is just, that what they are doing was important for the country, and that they must succeed,” said Gates. “President Bush did that with the troops when I was Secretary. I did not see President Obama do that. As I write in the book, it was this absence of passion, this absence of a conviction of the importance of success that disturbed me.”…
“You are not very flattering to Vice President Biden in this book,” said Braver.
“Actually I think I am in some areas complimentary of him,” Gates responded, “but where I had a particular problem with the vice president was in his encouragement of suspicion of the military and the senior military with the president: ‘You can’t trust these guys. They’re gonna try and jam you. They’re gonna try and box you in,’ and so on. And that did disturb me a lot.”
On Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving, the president called me at my home in the Pacific Northwest for a long talk. He was fine with the 30,000 troops, with flexibility “in the range of 10%” for additional enablers, but he wouldn’t agree to the requests for 4,500 enablers unrelated to the new deployments that had been stacking up on my desk for more than two months. He said that pushed the total number to 37,000. The president asked me to return to Washington early for a meeting with him, Mullen and Petraeus to make sure they were on board. “I’m tired of negotiating with the military,” he said.
That Sunday meeting was unlike any I ever attended in the Oval Office. Obama said he had gathered the group principally to go through his decisions one more time to determine whether Mullen and Petraeus were fully on board. The commanders said what he wanted to hear, and I was pleased to hear my proposal being adopted.
Then came an exchange that is seared into my memory. Biden said he was ready to move forward, but the military “should consider the president’s decision as an order.”
“I am giving an order,” Obama quickly said.
I was shocked. I had never heard a president explicitly frame a decision as a direct order. With the U.S. military, it is completely unnecessary. As secretary of defense, I had never issued an “order” to get something done; nor had I heard any commander do so. Obama’s “order,” at Biden’s urging, demonstrated the complete unfamiliarity of both men with the American military culture.
Obama did something else Gates had never seen in his long service, he writes — micromanage national security generally, and the Pentagon specifically, to a maddening degree. Inside, Gates was furious. Outside, no one knew.
“I never confronted Obama directly over what I (as well as [Hillary] Clinton, [CIA director Leon] Panetta and others) saw as the president’s determination that the White House tightly control every aspect of national security policy and even operations,” 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.”
Of course, the White House should call the big plays, Gates writes, but he was infuriated by the degree of what he saw as meddling — and so, he says, was Clinton.
For a National Security Council 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,” Gates writes. “It became routine under Obama. I directed commanders to refer such calls to my office. 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 people in the cabinet departments — in the trenches — who had actually done the work, offended Hillary Clinton as much as it did me.”
“I don’t think we can ignore what’s in that book, and I think, for many of us, it confirms our worst fears,” [Marco Rubio] said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “You saw that reflected in the decision that [Obama] made. At the same time that he announced the surge, he also announced an exit date and strategy, thereby emboldening the Taliban to believe they could wait us out.”
“This is an administration full of people that either have the wrong convictions, or, in the case of former Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, lacked the courage of her convictions,” Rubio added, referring to comments by Gates…
“And the result is now evident across the globe. Our allies see us as unreliable and our enemies feel emboldened,” Rubio added. “And I think that this confirms our worst fears, that this is an administration that lacks a strategic foreign policy and, in fact, is largely driven by politics and tactics.”
So: It’s the fall of 2010, and Gates is meeting with the president and top brass. “Biden, Mullen, Jones, Donilon, Brennan, and Tony Blinken, the vice president’s national security adviser, were there.” The subject: how to be ready if a conflict between Iran and Israel ignites. Gates worries that the particulars have not thought the scenario through, and advises the president to deploy a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf soon, just in case. The meeting ends.
“I was put off by the way the president closed the meeting. To his very closest advisers, he said, ‘For the record, and for those of you writing your memoirs, I am not making any decisions about Israel or Iran. Joe, you be my witness.’ I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters.”
Yes, what would give the president that idea?
“He’s obviously very frustrated—which surprised all of us who know him—and he’s decided to really let loose,” McCain said of Gates, whose forthcoming memoir Duty provoked cable news controversy this week.
“But was it appropriate?” host Candy Crowley asked of the timing of the book.
“I think, frankly, if I would have been giving him advice, I would have waited,” McCain replied. “As far as waiting until it is over in Afghanistan, I wouldn’t have done that. But maybe, a retrospect of a little longer than now. But I also respect his ability to voice his views any time he wants to.”
“There’s a sense of betrayal. I just don’t like the fact that anybody who is privy to a private conversation in the Oval Office … goes and repeats in public a private conversation that he heard,” [Ari] Fleischer told “The Steve Malzberg Show” on Newsmax TV…
“He could’ve, if he wanted to, said ‘I always suspected Hillary’s opposition was political’ … He could’ve done all of that without giving the verbatim quote,” Fleischer said…
“I just don’t think it’s good for the office of the presidency if presidents have to wonder if every single conversation they have, even with just two people in the Oval Office, is going to turn into fodder for someone’s future book. Not helpful for the country.”
“I do find that it’s somewhat distasteful and I always thought Bob Gates was really among our political elites. He served eight presidents so if anyone’s a political elite, he is,” Lowry told “The Steve Malzberg Show.”
“I always thought he was the most old-school and the most stand-up of any of them, but here he is saying that he’s on the verge of resigning multiple times because he’s so appalled by various things but he doesn’t quit.”…
“He just keeps notes for his memoir which he pushes out the door as quick as possible to maximize sales,” Lowry said.
“Some Gates insiders have told me this book was essentially ready before the 2012 election. Gates made a deliberate decision to delay his publication until well after the election so as not to have the incendiary charges intrude into the election,” Rove said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think that is a statement about his character,” he added.