Fmr. Defense Secretary Criticizes Obama on National Security

Robert Gates

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates / AP


Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates accuses White House officials of “aggressive, suspicious, and sometimes condescending and insulting questioning of our military leaders” in his new book and compares the Obama administration’s tight control of national security matters to that of Richard Nixon’s.

Gates, previously known for his even-keeled manner, does not mince words in his book Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, Bob Woodward writes in the Washington Post. Thomas Donilon, initially Obama’s deputy national security adviser, and former White House coordinator for wars Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute were singled out in particular, as well as the president himself and Vice President Joe Biden.

“All too early in the [Obama] administration,” Gates 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 recounts one meeting between Obama and his national security staff after Gen. David H. Petraeus publicly said he was uncomfortable with setting a fixed date for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan:

At a March 3, 2011, National Security Council meeting, Gates writes, the president opened with a “blast.” Obama criticized the military for “popping off in the press” and said he would push back hard against any delay in beginning the withdrawal.

According to Gates, Obama concluded, “ ‘If I believe I am being gamed . . .’ and left the sentence hanging there with the clear implication the consequences would be dire.”

Gates continues: “I was pretty upset myself. I thought implicitly accusing” Petraeus, and perhaps Mullen and Gates himself, “of gaming him in front of thirty people in the Situation Room was inappropriate, not to mention highly disrespectful of Petraeus. As I sat there, I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghanistan 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 also writes that Obama “breached faith with me” on issues such as the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays serving in the military and defense spending.

Gates’ book is scheduled for release on Jan. 14.