Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Fox News that President Barack Obama ignored the advice of his "entire national security team" during the Egyptian coup in 2011 that ousted Hosni Mubarak, the country’s former president.
Gates made his comments to Fox News’ Bret Baier during an interview for the network’s upcoming special, "Rising Threats – Shrinking Military," and the preview clip can be seen on The Blaze’s website.
Gates, who headed the Pentagon during the Egyptian coup, lamented that, while he and the rest of the president’s national security experts advised Obama to handle the situation in Egypt cautiously, the president chose to listen to three junior officials instead and called for Mubarak’s immediate ouster.
"Literally the entire national security team recommended unanimously handling Mubarak differently than we did," Gates said. "And the president took the advice of three junior backbenchers in terms of how to treat Mubarak."
The former Pentagon chief also described how the analysis of the three "backbenchers" was based on lofty idealism rather than facts on the ground.
"One of them [said], ‘Mr. President, you got to be on the right side of history,’" Gates explained before adding with a smile, "And I would be sitting there at the table and I would be saying, ‘Yeah, if we could just figure that out, we’d be a long way ahead.’"
Baier noted that when it became clear Mubarak could not stay in power and the Egyptian military "urged caution," Obama "pushed for his immediate removal."
Egypt became swept up by the popular protests of the Arab Spring in 2011, with massive crowds pouring into Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest the rule of long-time president Mubarak, who many thought to be an authoritarian ruler. Some Egypt observers, however, argued Mubarak’s rule was not as oppressive as those of other leaders in the region.
Mubarak was an important strategic ally for the United States, according to analysts, who point out that he granted U.S. warships priority access to the important Suez Canal, granted unrestricted flights to American military aircraft, and maintained peace with Israel.
Gates and most of the National Security Council thought Obama should not abandon such an ally right away and look into other resolutions to avoid any destabilization, but Obama, along with Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications and speechwriting, thought his ouster could make room for a more democratic government.
The president supported the protestors and forced Mubarak out of power, causing the Muslim Brotherhood to soon take control of the country with Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Morsi was overthrown by the Egyptian people and military in 2013, one year after he was democratically elected to office, for trying to centralize power completely under him and the Brotherhood.
One consequence of Obama’s push for Mubarak to step down is that it alienated Washington’s other primary Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, which had a good relationship with the Egyptian leader and saw the speed with which America was willing to dispose of him as a betrayal of sorts.
This is not the first time Gates has criticized his former boss for failing to listen to his advisers.
Earlier this year on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Gates said that Obama always believes he is the smartest guy in the room and has trouble developing and implementing strategy.
"You know, the president is quoted as having said at one point to his staff, ‘I can do every one of your jobs better than you can,’" Gates told the Morning Joe panel. He then added, "One of the greatest weaknesses of the [Obama] White House is implementation of strategy, is difficulty in developing strategy and then implementing that strategy."
Gates has served eight U.S. presidents in a variety of senior national security roles, including as secretary of defense for both Obama and George W. Bush, as well as the director of central intelligence in the early 1990s.