Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said says he doesn’t regret anything he wrote in his controversial new book and calls the memoir “an honest account.”
And in an interview Sunday with CBS News, he offered perhaps his harshest yet criticism of President Obama’s wartime leadership: that he didn’t reach out to American troops and make them believe he supported their sacrifice.
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“You say about President Obama that as much as you admired him on so many levels, he never really had a passion for pursuing the war in Afghanistan, and that kind of bothered you,” CBS News correspondent Rita Braver asked Gates.
“It’s one thing to tell the troops that you support them. It’s another to work at making them believe that you believe as president that their sacrifice is worth it, that the cause is just, that what they are doing was important for the country, and that they must succeed,” said Gates.
“President (George W. ) Bush did that with the troops when I was Secretary. I did not see President Obama do that,” he said. “As I write in the book, it was this absence of passion, this absence of a conviction of the importance of success that disturbed me.”
In “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War,” the former Pentagon chief raises questions about Obama’s war leadership and harshly criticizes Vice President Joe Biden.
Gates told CBS’ “Sunday Morning” that people credited him with being blunt and candid while he was in the Cabinet and that “I could hardly be any less in writing a book.”
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Gates say how some are looking at the book reflects the country’s polarized political process.
He says he didn’t think that waiting until 2017 — after the next presidential election — to weigh in on important issues “made any sense.”
“So why was I so angry all the time? Why did I want to leave all the time? . . . It’s just because getting anything done in Washington was so damnably hard,” he said.
Lawmakers in Congress were “uncivil, incompetent in fulfilling basic Constitutional responsibilities, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical . . . too often putting self and reelection before country.”
“I thought about that sentence a lot,” Gates told Braver,” and whether it was too strong. And I decided at the end of the day, that that’s what I believe.”
Gates praised Obama for facing down political opposition from his own party. But he is still very critical of the president and says Obama was at skeptical of his own strategy in Afghanistan.
But he saves much of his criticism for the president’s staffers. The national security staff under Obama was the most micromanaging and controlling since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.
But, Braver asked, “Did you ever tell the president about it directly?”
“No,” Gates said. “And I acknowledge that in the book.”
“Should you have, do you think?”
“Well, first of all, things don’t happen that way if the president doesn’t want them to happen that way.”
“Do you have a sense that’s changed? Or do you think they are still running things from the White House?”
“I actually think it’s gotten worse,” Gates said.
His disagreements with Vice President Joe Biden were especially harsh.
“You are not very flattering to Vice President Biden in this book,” said Braver.
“Actually I think I am in some areas complimentary of him,” Gates responded, “but where I had a particular problem with the vice president was in his encouragement of suspicion of the military and the senior military with the president: ‘You can’t trust these guys. They’re gonna try and jam you. They’re gonna try and box you in,’ and so on. And that did disturb me a lot.”
But Gates said he did occasionally see eye-to-eye with Biden.
“One time when I agreed with him on something — often Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and I would ride back to the Pentagon together from the White House — and Mullen turned to me at one point [and] said, ‘You know that you agreed with the vice president this morning.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s why I’m rethinking my position.'”
Gates says he was “dismayed” when he heard Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tell Obama that her opposition to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq had been “political, because she was facing him during the primary season.”
But Gates also has high praise for Clinton, saying she became one of his closest allies in the administration.
“The thing that I liked best about Secretary Clinton, other than the fact that she has a great sense of humor, was she is very tough-minded,” he said.
“Do you think she’d make a good president?” Braver asked.
‘Actually, I think she would,” Gates replied.
“And how about Vice President Biden? There is some talk he might run.”
“Well, I suppose to be even-handed, I would have to say I suppose he would,” he laughed.
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