Gates Laughs While Recalling Obama White House's Inability to Understand Military Options in Libya

April 1, 2016

Former defense secretary Robert Gates laughed in an excerpted interview Friday while recalling the Obama administration's inability to understand its military options during the 2011 Libya crisis.

Special Report host Bret Baier interviewed Gates as part of a special airing Friday night called Rising Threats, Shrinking Military. Gates, a holdover from the George W. Bush administration who served under Obama from 2009 to 2011, sharply criticized aspects of the Obama White House's foreign policy in his 2014 memoir Duty.

He became particularly upset when he discovered that White House staff members were "talking about military options with the president without Defense being involved," regarding Libya.

"I don't want any military plans or options going to the White House that I haven't seen," Gates said, recalling his instructions to the Pentagon at the time.

"I mean, you write it a little bit more bluntly," Baier said. "You say, 'Don't give the White House staff too much information on the military options. They don't understand it.'"

"Pretty much," Gates said, smiling.

"[It's] a little more blunt," Baier said, and both men laughed.

The Washington Post reports on Gates' writing:

It got so bad during internal debates over whether to intervene in Libya in 2011 that Gates says he felt compelled to deliver a "rant" because the White House staff was "talking about military options with the president without Defense being involved."

Gates says his instructions to the Pentagon were: "Don’t give the White House staff and [national security staff] too much information on the military options. They don’t understand it, and ‘experts’ like Samantha Power will decide when we should move militarily." Power, then on the national security staff and now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been a strong advocate for humanitarian intervention.

Another time, after Donilon and Biden tried to pass orders to Gates, he told the two, "The last time I checked, neither of you are in the chain of command," and said he expected to get orders directly from Obama.

Life at the top was no picnic, Gates writes. He did little or no socializing. "Every evening I could not wait to get home, get my office homework out of the way, write condolence letters to the families of the fallen, pour a stiff drink, wolf down a frozen dinner or carry out," since his wife, Becky, often remained at their home in Washington state.