WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama lacked belief in his administration’s policy toward the war in Afghanistan and was skeptical it would succeed, his former defense secretary, Robert Gates, writes in a memoir to be published next week.
Gates, who served as Pentagon chief from 2006 to 2011 under Obama and his Republican predecessor, President George W. Bush, is critical of Obama’s leadership on several defense-related issues, especially Afghanistan, according to a review of “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” in The Washington Post on Tuesday.
According to the Post, Gates wrote that he concluded by early 2010 that Obama, who had ordered his own troop “surge” in Afghanistan like Bush’s in the Iraq war, “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
Gates adds that Obama was “skeptical if not outright convinced it [the administration strategy] would fail,” according to the Post.
“I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” Gates writes.
After Obama was elected in 2008 to succeed Bush, Gates agreed to the new president’s request that he remain as defense secretary, becoming the first Pentagon chief to serve presidents of different parties.
Gates describes Obama as “a man of personal integrity” and says later in his memoir that “Obama was right” in his decisions regarding Afghanistan.
But Obama was uncomfortable with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan he inherited from the Bush administration and distrustful of the military that was providing him options, Gates writes.
According to the Post’s account of the book, the different worldviews of Obama and Gates “produced a rift, that at least for Gates, became personally wounding and impossible to repair.”
Gates’ book also criticizes top Obama aides, including Vice President Joe Biden, who he says was “poisoning the well” against military leadership.
The Post said Gates writes that confidence and trust were lacking in his dealings with Obama and his team.
Describing “a couple of important White House breaches of faith,” Gates said Obama informed him on one day’s notice he would announce the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that barred gays from serving openly in the military.
Gates supported repeal but writes he was “blindsided” by the move, which had been under discussion for months.
He writes that he was also “extremely angry” with Obama in a debate over defense spending. “I felt he had breached faith with me … on the budget numbers.”
“Why did I feel I was constantly at war with everybody, as I have detailed in these pages?” he adds in the memoir. “Why was I so often angry? Why did I so dislike being back in government and in Washington?”
“The broad dysfunction in Washington wore me down, especially as I tried to maintain a public posture of nonpartisan calm, reason and conciliation,” Gates writes.
“I did not enjoy being secretary of defense,” Gates notes in his memoir, emailing a friend, according to the Post, that “people have no idea how much I detest this job.”