Former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reveals in his new memoir that many in the Obama White House harbor deep suspicions and antagonism toward the U.S. military.
In “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” Mr. Gates discloses details of the differences between the White House and senior military leaders, mainly over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Vice President Joseph R. Biden, he notes, framed the issue with public comments in 2009 that he would not let the military “bully” the White House on decisions about how many troops to add to forces in Afghanistan.
Mr. Gates said he suspected the anti-military feelings were “stoked” by Mr. Biden, Senior Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and others who were distrustful of the military because of their lack of military experience.
Mr. Gates also disclosed that U.S. Pacific commander Adm. Tim Keating was nearly fired by President Obama, who was upset that the admiral told reporters the U.S. military was ready to shoot down any threatening North Korean long-range missile. Adm. Keating was reprimanded but not fired, Mr. Gates noted.
Retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair, Mr. Obama’s first director of national intelligence, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also piqued Mr. Obama’s ire.
“All too early in the administration, suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials — including the president and vice president — became a big problem for me as I tried to manage the relationship between the commander in chief and his military leaders,” Mr. Gates wrote.
After a secret plan for troops in Afghanistan was leaked to the press, Mr. Obama became “infuriated” at what he saw as a conspiracy by military leaders to “box me in.”
“What is wrong?” Mr. Obama asked Mr. Gates, according to the memoir. “Are they suspicious of my politics? Do they resent that I never served in the military?”
The divisions over how many troops to send to Afghanistan in 2009 created a “wall” between the military and the White House that Mr. Gates said was “bad for the country, even dangerous.”
“We heard regularly from members of the press that Biden, [National Security Adviser James L.] Jones, Donilon, [White House communications adviser Denis] McDonough, [National Security Council staff member Douglas] Lute, Emanuel, and [senior adviser David] Axelrod were ‘spilling their guts’ regularly — and disparagingly — to reporters about senior military leaders, Afghanistan and the decision-making process,” Mr. Gates said, adding that at one point the atmosphere in the White House toward the military was “poisonous.”
Mr. Gates says many White House staffers regarded him as a “geezer” and “Yoda,” and that the younger corps of staffers, mostly former congressional aides, took up senior positions, but lacked “firsthand knowledge of real-world governing.”
He noted that in the beginning of the administration, all White House staffers brought their cellphones to classified meetings in the Situation Room “potentially broadcasting everything that was said to foreign intelligence electronic eavesdroppers.”
HOW’D THAT GET THERE?
U.S. officials confirmed this week that North Korea’s long-range missile program benefited from parts made in China, Europe and America.
The discovery occurred after the rocket booster and other components of a Taepodong-2 missile were fished out of the Sea of Japan following a North Korean test launch in December 2012.