"I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates says of Vice President Joe Biden in his new book coming out later this month. Gates' assessment of Biden's boss is only slightly better, depicting an Obama administration with very murky lines of communication on military issues.
Gates, as The New York Times notes in its review of Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, served under every president since Nixon, save Bill Clinton. When President Obama took office in 2009, he (somewhat controversially) decided that Gates would stay as defense secretary, a position to which he was appointed by George W. Bush in 2006. (At that confirmation hearing, Gates reportedly thought to himself, "What the hell am I doing here? I have walked right into the middle of a category-five shitstorm.")
According to the Times review and one in The Washington Post, Gates wasn't particularly happy with either president. "In Duty," Bob Woodward writes for the Post, "Gates describes his outwardly calm demeanor as a facade. Underneath, he writes, he was frequently 'seething' and 'running out of patience on multiple fronts.'"
Gates apparently raises direct questions about Obama's handling of the war he inherited. The former secretary was concerned, Woodward writes, at both the Obama administration's tight grip on military policy as well as its insecurity about what it should do. The Times indicates that Gates faulted the Bush administration for its handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (before Gates arrived) and was consistently frustrated by his exchanges with Obama's advisors, especially Biden. From The Times:
Biden is accused of "poisoning the well" against the military leadership. Thomas Donilon, initially Obama’s deputy national security adviser, and then-Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the White House coordinator for the wars, are described as regularly engaged in "aggressive, suspicious, and sometimes condescending and insulting questioning of our military leaders."
During one meeting in 2009, the micro-managing of the advisors nearly prompted Gates to quit his position, in part given their tendency to try and interrupt the chain of military command. Gates also describes overhearing Hillary Clinton tell Obama that her opposition to the Iraq War in 2008 was primarily motivated by politics — an assessment that Gates says Obama generally agreed with. In the book, Gates says Obama has integrity, but has glowing praise for Clinton, calling her "smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny" — and it goes on.
The only part of government Gates actually liked, it seems, was the military. The book "offers the familiar criticism of Congress and its culture, describing it as 'truly ugly,'" Woodward writes. The Times calls his assessment of members of Congress "stinging," quoting Gates saying that "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."
Just wait until they get the attention that comes with writing a tell-all book.
Update, 6:00 p.m.: The White House unsurprisingly disagrees with Gates' assessment.