The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal set off a political bomb on Monday with reporting and excerpts of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates new book "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.” Passages that were highly critical of Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden won't surprise anyone who has been paying attention these past five years. What is surprising is that the stinging criticism comes from Gates, highly respected and not one with a partisan axe to grind. Gates has served every President since Nixon, except for Bill Clinton. The Post report by Bob Woodward describes the critique:
It is rare for a former Cabinet member, let alone a defense secretary occupying a central position in the chain of command, to publish such an antagonistic portrait of a sitting president.It's the contrast between Bush and Obama that Gates, who served both as Secretary of Defense, found striking as this excerpt from the book shows:
The sometimes bitter tone in Gates’s 594-page account contrasts sharply with the even-tempered image that he cultivated during his many years of government service, including stints at the CIA and National Security Council. That image endured through his nearly five years in the Pentagon’s top job, beginning in President George W. Bush’s second term and continuing after Obama asked him to remain in the post. In “Duty,” Gates describes his outwardly calm demeanor as a facade. Underneath, he writes, he was frequently “seething” and “running out of patience on multiple fronts.”
It is difficult to imagine two more different men than George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Clearly, I had fewer issues with Bush. Partly that is because I worked for him in the last two years of his presidency, when, with the exception of the Iraq surge, nearly all the big national security decisions had been made. He had made his historical bed and would have to lie in it. 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 (although, in fairness, his sharp-elbowed political gurus were nearly all gone by the time I arrived). By early 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney was the hawkish outlier on the team, with Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and me in broad agreement.That politics was central to every decision Obama makes isn't a surprise. What's stunning is that both Hillary Clinton and Obama admitted as much in Gates' presence. From Bob Woodward's report:
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[.]
“Hillary told the president that her opposition to the  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.”Gates goes on to describe White House meddling in the usual business of national security affairs that hasn't been seen since the Nixon Administration. If Obama had a Kissigner, as Nixon did, that might not be such a problem but Gates describes the Obama National Security team as "former Hill staffers, academics and political operatives" and key player Vice President Joe Biden as "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades." The Obama team ignored Department of Defense input on important decisions like Libya. No wonder North Africa is such a mess.
The harsh treatment and disrespect shown to generals in the military was nothing compared to Obama's lack of faith in his own policy:
At a pivotal meeting in the situation room in March 2011, called to discuss the withdrawal timetable, Mr. Obama opened with a blast of frustration — expressing doubts about Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander he had chosen, and questioning whether he could do business with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.Gates also discovered what so many of us have found to be true over the past five years: "agreements with the Obama White House were good for only as long as they were politically convenient."
“As I sat there, 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,” Mr. Gates wrote. “For him, it’s all about getting out.”
Some say Gates should have resigned earlier and told his story when it might have made a difference in the 2012 election. I doubt it would have. The press then would have swept the story under the same rug as they did Benghazi, the IRS scandal, Fast and Furious and so much else. By now, that's one bumpy rug. Eventually, we're going to trip on it.
With the rise of Al Queda in Iraq, Syria and North Africa we are seeing the negative consequences of a policy that is based solely on the politics of the moment. The problem is that political gains are short lived and as the moment passes the consequences begin to rear their ugly heads.