Taking cheap shots at President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush, 70-year-old former Defense Secretary Robert Gates raised eyebrows in the Beltway with his new book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War,” scheduled for release Jan. 14. Taking the reins from Bush’s colorful Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Dec. 18, 2006, Gates rubber-stamped Bush’s ill-conceived Iraq War where some 4,486 U.S. soldiers went to their graves, despite the fact Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11. By the time Obama pulled the plug on the Iraq War Dec. 15, 2011, Gates had served five years as Defense Secretary, passively going along with what turned out a failed policy. “For him it’s all about getting out,” said Gates referring to Obama’s position on the Iraq War, suggesting that the president had no interest in pursuing various military options.
Insisting “Obama can’t stand [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war his own,” Gates painted Obama as a reluctant customer in Afghanistan and Iraq. Gates knew that Obama ran on a platform in 2008 to end the Afghan and Iraq Wars. Blaming Obama for loosing confidence in his own “troop surge” strategy in Afghanistan, Gates said Barack lost confidence in Centcom Commander David Petraeus. Boxing himself out of the decision-making equation, Gates was actually an integral member of the 2006 Iraq Study Group that made recommendations to Bush in 2007 to surge U.S. forces. Obama’s disgust with the Iraq and Afghan Wars was based purely on a sober cost-benefit analysis where the U.S. was losing on all counts. Obama’s opposition to both wars had little to do with his personal preferences or lack of resolve.
Gates’ sour grapes in his new book shows classic Monday-morning quarterbacking. Gates had no answer what to do in either Afghanistan or Iraq, precisely because the more realistic appraisal by his own Iraq Study Group showed both wars were unwinnable. Gates even dragged former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton into the mix suggesting she opposed the 2007 Iraq troop surge for political reasons. Hillary only reluctantly voted for the Iraq War Resolution Oct. 16, 2002, basing her decision, like other members of Congress, on faked intel supplied by Douglas Feith Jr. and the Pentagon’s office of Special Plans, insisting Saddam Hussein had a dangerous arsenal of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Hillary opposed the Iraq troop surge because she realized too many U.S. troops had already died in a war that the Iraq Study Group said had an unfavorable outcome.
White House officials pushed back against Gates’ soon-to-be-released tome. “He always indicated he had a good working relationship with the president,” said former White House strategist David Axelrod. Gastes’ nonpartisan stature gives his allegations more weight, despite his reluctance to speak up in either the Bush or Obama administrations. While taking the baton from Rumsfeld, Gates was perfectly comfortable continuing failed strategy in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In Aftghanistan, Gates was well-aware that Osama bin Laden fled Afghanistan in mid-December 2001, rendering the mission of neutralizing the Sept. 11 perpetrators useless. Gates left his Cabinet post only two months after Navy Seals under Obama’s command tracked down and killed him in Abbottabad, Pakistand May 1, 2011. Gates’ critical remarks about Obama fueled Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to publicly blame Barack for today’s chaos.
Given al-Qaeda’s takeover of Fallujah and Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province, McCain took a cheap shot at Obama for ending the Iraq War prematurely. “That’s where our influence, by leaving, is missing and needed very badly in this situation,” said McCain, blaming today’s mess in Iraq on Obama. At the time Obama took office Jan. 20, 2009, nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers had lost their lives. Whatever’s wrong with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, pointing fingers for Iraq’s security problems at Obama goes over the top. McCain suggests that it dishonors Iraq War veterans to see more anarchy without a continued U.S. military presence. McCain knows that al-Maliki wanted U.S. troops out of Iraq, insisting his security forces could handle growing terrorist threats. “It was obvious. For anybody who observed their activities, it didn’t come as a surprise,” said McCain, regarding violence after the U.S. pullout.
Gates likes the play both sides against the middle, stirring more pots to sell more books. While in the Bush administration, Gates let former Vice President Dick Cheney call all the shots on Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates had minimal impact even after taking over as Defesne Secretary from Rumsfeld Dec. 18, 2006. Instead of painting himself as an innocent bystander, Gates was a passive, fence-sitting defense secretary giving Bush and Obama reluctant counsel. Content to play it low key behind the scenes, Gates should have strongly advocated for ending the Iraq and Afghan wars before costs and casualties mounted on the U.S. military and treasury. Gates public remarks seek to vindicate his legacy as one of the most passive and indecisive defense secretaries in U.S. history. His Monday-morning quarterbacking shows his passive-aggression, now pointing fingers at Obama and Bush.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.