Robert Gates, the quintessential national security professional, judges ex-boss Obama harshly

Coming from the source it comes from, this is pretty devastating:

In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president “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 cropped

Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”…

The source is someone for whom I’ve always had the utmost respect, as I’ve written in the past. Other political appointees come and go, but Gates has always seemed to me the real-life version of what the fictional George Smiley was in John le Carre’s world:

Mr. Gates is a Smileyesque professional. He was the only Director of Central Intelligence ever to have come up through the ranks. He had spent two decades in the Agency, from 1969 through 1989, with a several-year hiatus at the National Security Council. He received the National Security Medal, the Presidential Citizens Medal, the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal (twice) and the Distinguished Intelligence Medal (three times).
I trust professionals, particularly those who have devoted themselves to national service. Not in every case, of course — there are idiots and scoundrels in every walk of life — but if all other things are equal, give me the pro from Dover over someone’s golf buddy every time…

You know the real-life “golf-buddies” and campaign contributors and hangers-on. The fictional counterparts to them, in the le Carre world, would be Saul Enderby and, to a lesser degree, Oliver Lacon.

It’s one thing for Republicans and other professional detractors to attack the president’s national security seriousness. For Robert Gates to do it is quite another thing.

18 thoughts on “Robert Gates, the quintessential national security professional, judges ex-boss Obama harshly

  1. Doug Ross

    He apparently didn’t feel that strongly about this until after Obama was re-elected. He’s just another guy looking to cash in. Otherwise, why would he wait to reveal this in a book?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Wow, Doug, you ARE cynical.

      Try supposing for a moment that there’s no money involved. Let’s say a person can’t make a dime from writing a book and having it published.

      Things would still follow this course. A professional doesn’t blast his boss while still working for him, because that would be UNprofessional. (The proper thing to do — which I assume he did — was to frankly state his opinion to his boss, and then follow orders and keep his mouth shut publicly.) He doesn’t do so immediately after — that’s classless; it suggests that he was just waiting for a time when his boss couldn’t fire him anymore.

      But when, after retirement, he gets around to writing his memoirs, he has an obligation to history to be frank, and call everything exactly as he saw it. Which he is doing here.

      And which he was doing back during the Syria debate last year — before there was a book out.

      1. Doug Ross

        He could have offered his opinion for free. He chose to save it for the book. Unless he intends to donate all the proceeds to charity, it’s pretty clear he was looking to profit off his opinion.

        1. Silence

          Guaranteed that Gates doesn’t need the money. He’s a former president of Texas A&M, chancellor at William & Mary, on the board of Starbucks, NACCO, Fidelity and former director of the CIA & SecDef. He spent 27 years working for the feds. He’s probably pulling down 250k+ just in retirement pay, maybe that much again in director compensation.
          Here’s his 2010 financial disclosure form, courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics. They estimated his net worth at between 2.7M and 9M in 2011.

  2. Mark Stewart

    I’d split the difference on this one. Maybe Obama has been a military ditherer. But then maybe he was just doing what he said he would do when first elected – end the wars expeditiously but appropriately. Gates was the guy who rode things through – and so had a vested interest in “winning” the war- both of them. Obama as inheritor faced the responsibility of ending the wars. Nobody really thought in 2008-11 that Afghanistan would just go on and on, right? How did Gate’s think it was going to end? Did he envision we would get to a flowering of democracy and stability under Karzai?

    Since we never had a strategic objective to “win” (which would have meant long-term occupancy of both Iraq and Afghanistan), the only strategic result was either lose or pass off the conflicts to the nominal domestic governments. We made it to the later; which was good, but nothing to crow about.

    Gates should have remained silent, I think. Yes, he has a voice which should be shared with history. However, maybe it would have been better saved for later…

        1. Dave Crockett

          My late father, a 28-year veteran Marine, who spent his last 10 years in the Corps as a full-bird colonel survived both WWII and Korea. I clearly remember he and my elder brother getting into an vigorous discussion around the kitchen table about Vietnam sometime in 1966. My brother, a young college student at the time, was arguing in favor of the escalating American involvement in that hell hole of a country. Dad, hardly a pacifist, insisted that nothing being offered by my brother or Washington constituted a military strategy…that America had no clear notion of what “victory” would or could be and that, in the end, we would probably “have to unilaterally declare victory and leave” Vietnam.

          So many years later, as America plunged into Afghanistan (and later Iraq), his words that evening have been ringing in my ears and I think have been borne out yet again.

          Were he still alive, I suspect he would say that Gates is probably a fine man but maybe “shoulda kept his yap shut” for a while longer.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    By early 2010, the President “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his.” -Gates

    Wow. Men were being killed at three times the rate as they died under Bush’s leadership, and Obama was not even trying to win. The Commander in Chief was having his men die for a mission that he didn’t believe in and didn’t consider to be “his”.


    Our soldiers remained there by our Commander in Chief’s orders. But they really remained there out of his political cowardice. Men were dying for Obama’s political cowardice. If he didn’t wish to fight the war– then he should saved those men’s lives and brought them home.

    That’s galling, but believable.

    It is one thing to sacrifice men’s lives for an important objective. You know, the Normandy Invasion. Men died, but our Commander in Chief thought the objective of breaching Fortress Europa was an important objective. The only objective sought by Obama was avoiding the “Weak on Terrorism” attack that would have been lodged by the Right (Maybe rightly, maybe wrongly). However, that’s the only thing he was doing. Remember his criticism of the Iraq War constantly, that he would be tough as the Devil on Afghanistan.

    So men were dying, to save Obama some short-term minor political pain.

    That’s what Gates is saying here.

    1. Anonymous

      “Our soldiers remained there by our Commander in Chief’s orders. But they really remained there out of his political cowardice. Men were dying for Obama’s political cowardice.”

      Obama is on autopilot in appeasement* mode, by design. He is only following orders — is that not admirable? But whose president is he?

      Some historically-proven means of dealing with the enemy:

      1. Prayer (hmmmm)
      2. Gifts (appeasement)
      3. Battle (legitimate, armed & informed, motivated to win, battle)

  4. Mark Stewart

    War’s like a relationship; it takes two to tango. In the case of Afghanistan, there were three parties at the dance. The wild card was the Karzai government. It was never as simple as achieving a military victory. Sometimes not losing is the best that can be achieved.

    If Afghanistan finds a way to govern itself, then we win. But the lives lost should never be forgotten either way.

  5. bud

    Obama inherited these wars and discovered there were no good options. His big mistake was to keep Gates, a man who was simply never on board with a strategy. He would never be satisfied with any strategy that did not involve damn the torpedoes full speed ahead! And the president could never satisfy such a blood lust. He wanted to embrace a more measured approach and that was just not feasible. Hence in the eyes of Gates he seemed less that committed. But that’s the caution that Obama demonstrates so admirably. Now we have this vendetta to settle some sort of score with Obama. (I don’t believe it’s about money. Seriously Doug people are motivated by things other than money.) But rather this is about ensuring his neocon views are given legitimacy no matter how ridiculous that may be. And what’s really disheartening about all this is that Obama has done a pretty good job with the really awful hand he was dealt. I can nit or pic here and there but seriously this notion that somehow things could have ultimately worked out any better is nothing but a war monger pipe dream.

  6. Brad Warthen

    This is interesting…

    Bret Stephens, writing in the WSJ, castigates Gates as a whiner, even dishonorable. He makes a good case, based on reading the book — which I have not done.

    The essence: “Serving as secretary of defense isn’t really a duty. It’s an honor that shouldn’t be treated as a burden.”

    The link:


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