Robert Gates book portrays Obama as a different kind of president

Reuters

Retiring US Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledges applause as US President Barack Obama and then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen (obscured) participate in Gates' farewell ceremony at the Pentagon near Washington, June 30, 2011.

Article Highlights

  • Gates praises Clinton’s judgment, her sense of humor and her penchant for hard work.

    Tweet This

  • Gates wrote Duty after leaving government with no intention or expectation of ever returning.

    Tweet This

  • But the excerpts suggest that Gates sees Obama out of line with the continuity he admires in his predecessors.

    Tweet This

Like just about everybody else in Washington and many across the country, I've been reading the excerpts from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' book Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War.

It presents a significantly more negative picture of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton than Gates' statements in office led anyone to expect.

And it presents an interesting contrast with Gates's previous memoir, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War, published in 1996.

To be sure Gates in Duty says many positive things about his most recent former colleagues. He calls Obama's decision to target Osama bin Laden the “most courageous” presidential decision he has seen.

He praises Clinton’s judgment, her sense of humor and her penchant for hard work. Though he doesn't make the point explicitly in the excerpt, the secretary of state and secretary of defense weren't constant and mistrustful antagonists.

But he also presents some damning testimony. Listening to Obama soon after he had ordered a surge of troops into Afghanistan, “I thought: the president doesn't trust his commander, can't stand [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.”

If this is not cynical enough, he is shocked that Clinton and Obama admit that their opposition to the Iraq surge was politically motivated -- in the presence of Gates, who was in the chain of command on the surge and helped make it work.

As for Vice President Joe Biden, Gates writes that he “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy issue” over four decades. And he expresses even more angry contempt for Congressional leaders.

Gates wrote Duty after leaving government with no intention or expectation of ever returning. But he wrote From the Shadows, published in 1996, in similar circumstances.

He had risen quickly from a junior Russia analyst at the CIA to positions at the National Security Council in the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and first Bush administrations. He was nominated to be CIA director in 1986, but withdrew in the face of congressional opposition; he was nominated again for the post and confirmed in 1991.

In From the Shadows he does not always fawn on the leaders he served. “No stranger man in American history” is his verdict on Richard Nixon. Ronald Reagan “began to fade a bit beginning in late 1985-early 1986.”

He has especially warm praise for George H.W. Bush and his foreign policy team, and notes that Bush had almost a familial relationship with National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft (as George W. Bush would later have with Condoleezza Rice).

He sees Secretary of State James Baker as “a master craftsman of the persuasive and backroom arts at the peak of his powers,” but notes that he “demanded more loyalty of the president than he gave in return.”

Even more notable than the individual portraits in From the Shadows is Gates’ argument that there was far more continuity in American foreign policy during the presidencies in which he served than was suggested by partisan rhetoric.

In this view, Nixon's detente with Russia was sealed by Ford's Helsinki Accords, whose human rights provisions were built on by Carter, who began the defense buildup accelerated by Reagan, whose negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev provided the basis for Bush's management of the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Presidents were constantly buffeted from the Right and Left by members of Congress but, Gates argues, if the process was unpleasant the results were usually benign.

In the excerpts from Duty, Gates seems to take a similar view of George W. Bush, a “mature leader” who on the Iraq surge “risked reputation, public esteem, credibility, political ruin and the judgment of history on a single decision he believed was the right thing for the country.”

But the excerpts suggest that Gates sees Obama out of line with the continuity he admires in his predecessors.

Clinton and Obama’s cynical opposition to the Iraq surge and Obama’s half-hearted commitment to his Afghanistan strategy are in jarring contrast with his description in Shadows of Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush I.

“For each,” he writes, “the country came first,” and “each, in his own way, was a modest man.” Let’s see if in the full text of Duty he says the same of Obama.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine

What's new on AEI

Love people, not pleasure
image Oval Office lacks resolve on Ukraine
image Middle East Morass: A public opinion rundown of Iraq, Iran, and more
image Verizon's Inspire Her Mind ad and the facts they didn't tell you
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.