Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will be releasing his new book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War next week, and if advanced reports and excerpts are of any indication, he has little good to say about anyone in Washington DC.
He claims to have gotten on well with George W. Bush only because most of the foreign policy decisions in the Bush administration had already been made by the time he came on board in 2007, and goes on to state that in many ways Bush and Obama were surprisingly similar in style. However, he does say this,
I don’t recall Bush ever discussing domestic politics—apart from congressional opposition—as a consideration in decisions he made during my time with him.
This is a direct contrast to Obama, who is all domestic politics, all the time:
With Obama, however, I joined a new, inexperienced president determined to change course—and equally determined from day one to win re-election. Domestic political considerations would therefore be a factor, though I believe never a decisive one, in virtually every major national security problem we tackled. The White House staff—including Chiefs of Staff Rahm Emanuel and then Bill Daley as well as such core political advisers as Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs —would have a role in national security decision making that I had not previously experienced (but which, I’m sure, had precedents).
“Which, I’m sure, had precedents”? Really? While surely other presidents have made military decisions based in part on domestic considerations, we are unaware of any other president involving his political staff in such deliberations. Probably the closest to this was Kennedy, who sometimes allowed his political adviser to sit in the room by the door to overhear deliberations during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but who did not let him take part. If there is any precedent for allowing someone like Valarie Jarrett take part in deciding how to fight a war, then this is indeed news, and Gates should cite some references.
While Gates at times appears eager to be fair and impartial when it comes to Obama, he did have this to say about Obama’s Afghan policy:
As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [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.
Recall, if you will, that Obama ran in 2008 on a platform of getting out of Iraq, and focusing on winning the war in Afghanistan. It now appears that this was all election-year politics.
This is confirmed in another excerpt, where Gates reveals that both Hillary Clinton and Obama acknowledged playing politics in 2007 when it came to Iraq:
Hillary told the president that her opposition to the  surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary.
[Obama] conceded vaguely that [his] 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.
Oddly, this is his only slam against Hillary, whom he otherwise thinks well of.
Indeed, Gates’s harshest criticism appears to be against Joe Biden:
I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.
This is obviously true, but it is refreshing that someone within the Beltway was willing to say this.
He also did not get along well with the National Security Staff in the White House:
Most of my conflicts with the Obama administration during the first two years weren’t over policy initiatives from the White House,’ Gates declares, ‘but rather the NSS’s micromanagement and operational meddling, which I routinely resisted.
For an NSS staff 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. It became routine under Obama. I directed commanders to refer such calls to my office.
However, his greatest vitriol is reserved for members of the US Congress:
All too often during my 4½ years as secretary of defense, when I found myself sitting yet again at that witness table at yet another congressional hearing, I was tempted to stand up, slam the briefing book shut and quit on the spot. The exit lines were on the tip of my tongue: I may be the secretary of defense, but I am also an American citizen, and there is no son of a bitch in the world who can talk to me like that. I quit. Find somebody else. It was, I am confident, a fantasy widely shared throughout the executive branch.
Much of my frustration came from the exceptional offense I took at the consistently adversarial, even inquisition-like treatment of executive-branch officials by too many members of Congress across the political spectrum—creating a kangaroo-court environment in hearings, especially when television cameras were present.
While much of the commentary about his book in the coming days will focus on what Gates says about others, his comments are even more illuminating in the light of what they say about him. Nothing he has revealed thus far is particularly new. All of the revelations are newsworthy only because they were made by a former cabinet member.
Yet, many people have wondered what kind of person would work in both the Bush and Obama administrations, and now we know. Gates is a political moderate who despises politics and despises the elected representatives whom he swore to serve. He is the ultimate bureaucratic troll, at quiet war with the whole world, but in a passive-aggressive way, which caused him to bite his lip and say nothing for years, but now explode in anger at those whom he served.
We’ve worked for and with people like this often in our career, and the one thing that is true about such a sort more than anything else is that they always think they were doing the honorable thing by serving quietly and not raising a fuss. However, this is never true.
If Gates had been an honorable man, he would have quit the day he realized that Obama’s Afghan policy was a pure sham and that the man was therefore a fraud, and he would have written this book four years ago, when it would have mattered and it would have made a difference in the 2012 election. As it is, all Gates is doing here is settling some personal scores.
In short, if one claims to despise politics, then there is no better way of showing this than to exhibit fearless integrity when it counts. Anything short of this is simply careerism.