Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates’ Memoir Doesn’t Make Anyone Look Good

Donald Rumsfeld’s successor has penned a book that includes some sharply honest takes on his former colleagues.

Robert Gates answers questions from the media during a press briefing September 23, 2010 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
National Journal
Marina Koren and Matt Berman
Add to Briefcase
Marina Koren Matt Berman
Jan. 7, 2014, 11:02 a.m.

Former De­fense Sec­ret­ary Robert Gates’ mem­oir is 640 pages long. And at least some of those pages aren’t filled with warm re­flec­tions of a ca­reer well-spent.

Gates does not have kind words for his former boss, Barack Obama.

“The pres­id­ent doesn’t trust his com­mand­er,” Gates writes in Duty: Mem­oirs of a Sec­ret­ary at War, out next week, re­flect­ing on a March 2011 meet­ing on Afghan policy. Obama “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.”

Gates does not have kind words for his former col­league, Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden.

The vice pres­id­ent is “a man of in­teg­rity,” Gates writes, but he’s been “wrong on nearly every ma­jor for­eign policy and na­tion­al se­cur­ity is­sue over the past four dec­ades.”

Gates does not have kind words for an­oth­er former col­league, Hil­lary Clin­ton. From The Wash­ing­ton Post:

“Hil­lary told the pres­id­ent that her op­pos­i­tion to the [2007] surge in Ir­aq had been polit­ic­al be­cause she was fa­cing him in the Iowa primary…. The pres­id­ent con­ceded vaguely that op­pos­i­tion to the Ir­aq surge had been polit­ic­al. To hear the two of them mak­ing these ad­mis­sions, and in front of me, was as sur­pris­ing as it was dis­may­ing.”

Well, maybe a few kind words:

“I found her smart, ideal­ist­ic but prag­mat­ic, tough-minded, in­defatig­able, funny, a very valu­able col­league, and a su­perb rep­res­ent­at­ive of the United States all over the world.”

Gates does not have kind words for two oth­er former col­leagues, Thomas Doni­lon or then-Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute. They were “ag­gress­ive, sus­pi­cious, and some­times con­des­cend­ing and in­sult­ing” to­ward mil­it­ary lead­ers.

Gates does not have kind words for even him­self. From The New York Times:

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.

There may be more words where those came from. From the ex­cerpts in The Wash­ing­ton Postand New York Times, the mem­oir ap­pears to be a rare, rich look in­to how the George W. Bush and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tions con­duc­ted wars in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan, with no hits spared for any­one in­volved.

Gates, The Post‘s Bob Wood­ward points out, has served every pres­id­ent since Richard Nix­on, Bill Clin­ton aside. This isn’t just poin­ted cri­ti­cism com­ing from a hack, or someone who has a par­tic­u­lar par­tis­an bone to pick. It’s com­ing from a guy who knows gov­ern­ment, knows mil­it­ary, and knows war bet­ter than nearly any­one else on the semipolit­ic­al scene. Even if you don’t agree with every stra­tegic de­cision the guy’s ever made, it’s hard not to take his cri­tiques of how the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is run ser­i­ously.

And as The Wash­ing­ton Post‘s Chris Cil­lizza is already mak­ing clear, Gates’ cri­ti­cisms aren’t likely to drift away:

Gates’ ver­sion of why Clin­ton op­posed the surge fits per­fectly in­to this ex­ist­ing good-polit­ics-makes-good-policy nar­rat­ive about the former Sec­ret­ary of State. And that’s what makes it dan­ger­ous for her — and why you can be sure she (or her people) will (and must) dis­pute Gates’ re­col­lec­tion quickly and defin­it­ively.

Hear that, 2016?

What We're Following See More »
Is McMullin Building the GOP in Exile?
41 minutes ago

Evan McMullin, the independent conservative candidate who may win his home state of Utah, is quietly planning to turn his candidacy into a broader movement for principled conservatism. He tells BuzzFeed he's "skeptical" that the Republican party can reform itself "within a generation" and that the party's internal "disease" can't be cured via "the existing infrastructure.” The ex-CIA employee and Capitol Hill staffer says, “I have seen and worked with a lot of very courageous people in my time [but] I have seen a remarkable display of cowardice over the last couple of months in our leaders.” McMullin's team has assembled organizations in the 11 states where he's on the ballot, and adviser Rick Wilson says "there’s actually a very vibrant market for our message in the urban northeast and in parts of the south."

Clinton Up 9 in USA Today Poll; Up 3 According to Fox
52 minutes ago

A new USA Today/Suffolk University poll finds Clinton leads Trump by 9 points nationwide, 47% to 38%. A Fox News national poll has Clinton up just three points, 44% to 41% over Trump.

Too Many Potential Enrollees Paying Obamacare Penalties Instead
1 hours ago

One of the main reasons for the recent Obamacare premium hikes is that many potential enrollees have simply decided to pay the tax penalty for remaining uninsured, rather than pay for insurance. More than 8 million people paid the penalty in 2014, and preliminary numbers for 2015 suggest that the number approaches 6 million. "For the young and healthy who are badly needed to make the exchanges work, it is sometimes cheaper to pay the Internal Revenue Service than an insurance company charging large premiums, with huge deductibles."

Cruz: Eight Justices Could Be an Ongoing Situation
3 hours ago

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that "there was “precedent” for a Supreme Court with fewer than nine justices—appearing to suggest that the blockade on nominee Merrick Garland could last past the election." Speaking to reporters in Colorado, Cruz said: "I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”

Chaffetz Also Caves, Says He’ll Vote Trump
5 hours ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.