Robert Gates has just written a new book about the time he spent serving as Defense Secretary under George Bush and Barack Obama called Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary At War. A few people received advance copies of the book and have written reviews about it. Bob Woodward was one of them and he led off with this.
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.
”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.”
He chose to make it appear that Robert Gates really disliked President Obama and questions his leadership as president, which is far from the truth. I was happy to read some of the things Gates wrote about the president's character, dealing with two wars that he had nothing to do with, because Obama was always questioning the military-industrial complex and Gates wrote that he was a a man of personal integrity and is “very thoughtful and analytical, but he is also quite decisive.” “I think we have a similar approach to dealing with national security issues.” Does that sound like Gates really disliked Obama to you?
It was a very harsh book review article from Bob, with very little about George Bush, the man who lied us into war with Iraq, but loads about the odious Obama administration. Woodward's words reveal his own biases against the president, as well as a seriously flawed piece about Gate's new book.
Read that again. According to Woodward, it is a serious charge against a president to say that he had doubts about the "course he had charted." Since the same author wrote three increasingly critical books about a certain former president who never expressed the slightest doubts about disastrous policy choices, you'd think Woodward would know better. Apparently not.
In contrast, here is how The New York Times's Thom Shanker, who also managed to get a copy of the book, writes about the same subject:
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 expressing his own criticism of the way his strategy in Afghanistan was playing out.
This makes the same point, but in a less judgmental way. And here is Gates himself:
“As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,” Mr. Gates writes. “For him, it’s all about getting out.” all about getting out.”
I don't have a copy of Gates book, but as far as I can tell, Gates is not saying whether the president is right or wrong to feel these things, i.e. whether he was motivated by the realities of the situation. But there is a clue—one that Woodward reports lower in the article:
Gates’s severe criticism is even more surprising — some might say contradictory — because toward the end of “Duty,” he says of Obama’s chief Afghanistan policies, “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.”
Huh? This acknowledgment leaves Woodward's opening paragraphs looking nearly incomprehensible.
Woodward does go on to mention a few areas where Gates really does seem mad: “I felt he had breached faith with me...on the budget numbers,” Gates writes of Obama.
On Afghanistan, though—where there is plenty to criticize in the White House's approach—the judgement feels more like Woodward's than Gates's. It wouldn't be the first time that Woodward showed a strong dislike for the president, and allowed his opinions to get ahead of the facts.
Bob Woodward is the Grand Poobah of the Beltway media elites and acts like the mayor of the Villagers (If you're not sure what the term "The Villagers" is when we use it on C&L, read this definition by Digby) and I thought he'd be able to hide his hackery better than that.
There are many things in the administration I've been unhappy about these last five years, but the fact that the president is getting us out of Iraq and Afghanistan is not one of them -- and I doubt Gates would agree with him on that, either.
Update: Check out Digby for more on Robert Gates own imperfections, especially when dealing with Gorbachev.