Ed Driscoll

Gates' Duty: 'An Antagonistic Portrait of a Sitting President'

“Robert Gates, former defense secretary, offers harsh critique of Obama’s leadership in ‘Duty.’” Bob Woodward writes in the Washington Post: That they assigned Woodward to write the review indicates how how-profile the book is considered inside the Beltway:

In “Duty,” Gates complains repeatedly that confidence and trust were what he felt was lacking in his dealings with Obama and his team. “Why did I feel I was constantly at war with everybody, as I have detailed in these pages?” he writes. “Why was I so often angry? Why did I so dislike being back in government and in Washington?”

His answer is that “the broad dysfunction in Washington wore me down, especially as I tried to maintain a public posture of nonpartisan calm, reason and conciliation.”

His lament about Washington was not the only factor contributing to his unhappiness. Gates also writes of the toll taken by the difficulty of overseeing wars against terrorism and insurgencies in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Such wars do not end with a clear surrender; Gates acknowledges having ambiguous feelings about both conflicts. For example, he writes that he does not know what he would have recommended if he had been asked his opinion on Bush’s 2003 decision to invade Iraq.

Three years later, Bush recruited Gates — who had served his father for 15 months as CIA director in the early 1990s — to take on the defense job. The first half of “Duty” covers those final two years in the Bush administration. Gates reveals some disagreements from that period, but none as fundamental or as personal as those he describes with Obama and his aides in the book’s second half.

“All too early in the [Obama] administration,” he writes, “suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials — including the president and vice president — became a big problem for me as I tried to manage the relationship between the commander in chief and his military leaders.”

Gates offers a catalogue of various meetings, based in part on notes that he and his aides made at the time, including an exchange between Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that he calls “remarkable.”

He writes: “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.”

Really? At that late date? Why would Gates be so surprised at the left playing politics with the Iraq war to assuage their base, when they had been doing so virtually right from the beginning?

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And Ace notes, linking to Woodward’s review, “If you’ve ever thought ‘Military leaders are not free to offer their real opinions to Congress or the American people,’ you’re right:”

But Gates says he did not speak his mind when the committee chairman listed the problems he would face as secretary. “I remember sitting at the witness table listening to this litany of woe and thinking, “What the hell am I doing here? I have walked right into the middle of a category-five shitstorm. It was the first of many, many times I would sit at the witness table thinking something very different from what I was saying.”

It’s really a Read the Whole Thing thing. I didn’t quote Gates’ opinion on National Security Advisor Tom Donillon being a “disaster,” for example.

At the Corner, Alec Torres adds this quote from Gates. “I felt that agreements with the Obama White House were good for only as long as they were politically convenient.” Why, it’s as if Obama’s staff only wants the him to be surrounded by yes men, or the human/personnel equivalent of the president’s long-running promise/expiration date formula.

Exit quote — or Tweet, in this case:

Faster, please.

Update: Since I borrowed the “exit quote” tag from Allahpundit, I should mention his post on Gates’ new book at Hot Air, and the exit Tweet that he posted as well:

WaPo’s quick out of the box to frame this as a liability for Hillary in 2016 (“the criticism that has always haunted her is that everything she does is infused with politics”), and while that’s true, it’s also missing the point. We’ve got a former secretary of defense accusing the commander-in-chief of pursuing a deadly, costly war in Afghanistan that he doesn’t really believe in. Let’s hear more from both parties about that, please. While we wait, your exit question via my esteemed colleague:

As Ed notes in a follow-up Tweet, Gates left in 2011; if he truly did believe at the time that Obama was tossing away soldiers’ lives and the War on Terror for political expediency, didn’t he owe to voters to reveal his thoughts when it might have made a difference in an election year?