Bob Gates’ Obama ‘Bombshell’ Doesn’t Tell Us That Much

Excerpts from the former defense secretary’s memoir don’t shed a lot of light on how we should think of President Obama.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates receives a standing ovation from President Barack Obama and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen during Gates’ Armed Services Farewell Tribute at the Pentagon June 30, 2011, in Arlington, Va. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Clearly, Gates left the job with a bad taste in his mouth. But he never articulates much difference between his and the president’s policy preferences.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

In the book, Gates reportedly characterizes the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” as an example of the president’s “breaches of faith”—a repeal Gates supported but, apparently, on a different timetable. But the DADT repeal took place two full years into Obama’s presidency, with the blessing of all but one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and it won fairly easy congressional approval.

Surely, Gates couldn’t expect this civil rights milestone to move forward at his own personal pace.

The Generals

Gates writes, “Obama was respectful of senior officers and always heard them out, but he often disagreed with them and was deeply suspicious of their actions and recommendations.”

Nice, I suppose, for Gates to note that the boss was polite to subordinates—with the implication, presumably, that because Obama had no military experience, he should have deferred more to his commanders. But considering that Obama took over two unwon wars—in, respectively, years six and seven—the military’s top brass should have expected some pushback.


Gates gripes about White House “meddling” in Pentagon planning and complains that Obama’s Afghanistan strategy was “all about getting out,” but in 2009, Obama green-lit the generals’ counterinsurgency strategy and committed 50,000 new troops to try turning the tide in that war.

If Gates didn’t like the president’s attitude, then he’s entitled to that. And there’s a separate critique to be made about the fact that we’ve still got troops fighting in Afghanistan. But since he thinks that on the eventual policy, “Obama was right,” maybe Gates isn’t the best person to make it.