Bipartisan Critic Turns His Gaze Toward Obama
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In His New Memoir, Robert M. Gates, the Former Defense Secretary, Offers a Critique of the President.
After ordering a troop increase in Afghanistan, President Obama eventually lost faith in the strategy, his doubts fed by White House advisers who continually brought him negative news reports suggesting it was failing, according to his former defense secretary Robert M. Gates.
In a new memoir, Mr. Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration who served for two years under Mr. Obama, praises the president as a rigorous thinker who frequently made decisions “opposed by his political advisers or that would be unpopular with his fellow Democrats.” But Mr. Gates says that by 2011, Mr. Obama began criticizing — sometimes emotionally — the way his policy in Afghanistan was playing out.
“Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” is the first book describing the Obama administration’s policy deliberations written from inside the cabinet. Mr. Gates offers 600 pages of detailed history of his personal wars with Congress, the Pentagon bureaucracy and, in particular, Mr. Obama’s White House staff. He wrote that the “controlling nature” of the staff “took micromanagement and operational meddling to a new level.”
Mr. Obama’s decision to retain Mr. Gates at the Pentagon gave his national security team a respected professional and veteran of decades at the center of American foreign policy — and offered a bipartisan aura. But it was not long before Mr. Obama’s inner circle tired of the defense secretary they initially praised as “Yoda” — a reference to the wise, aged Jedi master in the “Star Wars” films — and he of them.
Mr. Gates calls Mr. Biden “a man of integrity,” but questions his judgment.
Mr. Gates is a bipartisan critic of the two presidents he served as defense secretary. He holds the George W. Bush administration responsible for misguided policy that squandered the early victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, although he credits Mr. Bush with ordering a troop surge in Iraq that averted collapse of the mission.
Mr. Gates acknowledges that he initially opposed sending Special Operations forces to attack a housing compound in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was believed to be hiding. Mr. Gates writes that Mr. Obama’s approval for the Navy SEAL mission, despite strong doubts that Bin Laden was even there, was “one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed in the White House.”
In his final chapter, Mr. Gates makes clear his verdict on the president’s overall Afghan strategy: “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.”
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