Quantcast

«

»

Jan 10 2014

Gates: Obama Just Not Enthusiastic Enough

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Republican that President Obama asked to stay on in that position after the 2008 election, has a new book out that apparently makes some rather incoherent criticisms of the president. Greg Jaffe has a review of the book in the Washington Post. One of the odd positions he evidently takes is that while Obama was right in his decisions about the war in Afghanistan, he just wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic about it.

He recounts his thoughts during a tense 2011 meeting with Obama and Gen. David H. Petraeus, then in charge of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in the White House Situation Room: “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. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

The critique will infuriate the parents and spouses of troops who were killed trying to execute Obama’s Afghan war strategy. But Gates doesn’t prove his damning accusation and can be maddeningly self-contradictory in his criticism of Obama. He describes the president’s decision to send 33,000 more troops to Afghanistan as courageous and politically unpopular. “Obama overruled the policy and domestic political concerns of his vice president and virtually all the senior White House staff,” Gates writes. Why would the president pursue a politically unpopular strategy that he believed would fail? Gates never attempts to explain the contradiction.

Though he decries Obama’s White House staff as the “most centralized and controlling” since the Nixon administration, he offers little substantive criticism of the president’s big decisions on Afghanistan. Hawkish Republicans and some in the military slammed Obama for putting firm limits on the number of troops he was willing to send to Afghanistan and for setting a withdrawal date, saying the timelines and troop caps betrayed a lack of resolve and emboldened the enemy. Gates, however, dismisses this argument, writing, “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.”

Gates’s problem with the president is less about strategy or substance than about heart. “I myself, our commanders, and our troops had expected more commitment to the cause and more passion for it from him,” Gates writes. He compares Obama unfavorably with Bush, who “had no second thoughts about Iraq, including our decision to invade.”

Rod Dreher, one of the most reasonable voices on the right, finds this absolutely baffling:

Is it just me, or is this nuts? Obama’s judgment of the sleazy Karzai was correct, Obama knew the war was unwinnable, Gates thinks Obama made the right calls — but he faults the president for not being a True Believer? As if George W. Bush’s unwillingness to reassess American strategy in light of cold, hard experience is a sign of wisdom and character! I suppose Gates has a point if he’s faulting Obama for pursuing a military strategy that he (the president) didn’t believe in, but does Gates believe that an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan would have been the better strategy, even if it had been politically feasible (which it may not have been)?

It’s really a weird criticism.

26 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    jamessweet

    That was pretty much my immediate reaction, was confusion. First I heard the “centralized and controlling” thing and I was like, “Wow, that’s interesting… I guess it makes sense in light of some of the abuses of executive power, etc. I’m intrigued to hear more!” Then all the details I heard were things like how he was never 100% certain about his decisions, and was always questioning his own judgment and the judgment of his advisers, wondering if it was really correct. That…just doesn’t jibe with the first part. In fact, the latter kinda sounds like a desirable trait. That sounds like the Obama we all thought we were voting for in 2008.

    So… I dunno. The incoherency of the critiques kinda makes me not all that interested any more. Sounds more like ax-grinding than legitimate criticism. And I am NOT one of those partisans who is unwilling to hear honest criticism of Obama — FSM knows there is plenty of that to be had. But I get the feeling this ain’t it…

  2. 2
    colnago80

    One can only imagine what the situation would be if either McCain or Rmoney had been elected. We would have gone charging into Syria all guns blazing and gotten bogged down in another no win war.

  3. 3
    jws1

    I think those on the right, even the more reasonable ones, constantly criticize Obama on foreign policy to the point of whining about “enthusiasm” because he is just flat better on foreign policy than they have been in quite some time. It’s supposed to be the conservative area of expertise; they simply can’t admit that an executive not of their tribe outclasses them, achieving better results than they could have with their tired, old bluster. In what reasonable mind is it considered a bad thing for an executive to think before acting?

  4. 4
    caseloweraz

    According to a piece on NPR, Gates reserves his worst criticism for Joe Biden.

  5. 5
    zippythepinhead

    I just had Chinese food for lunch and my fortune cookie reads, “No one is standing in your way anymore, time to moving[sic] forward”. Good advice for Mr. Gates.

  6. 6
    raven

    Then all the details I heard were things like how he was never 100% certain about his decisions, and was always questioning his own judgment and the judgment of his advisers, wondering if it was really correct.

    If Johnson, Nixon, and George Bush the lesser did that, hundreds of thousands of dead people would still be alive today. Including a few that I knew.

    It’s not easy to admit you were wrong and change your mind. But sometimes you are wrong and changing your mind is the intelligent thing to do.

  7. 7
    Raging Bee

    One of the odd positions he evidently takes is that while Obama was right in his decisions about the war in Afghanistan, he just wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic about it.

    Well, yeah, how can anyone be enthusiastic about an already-botched and unwinnable war that he inherited from a party that was dead set on blaming him for it regardless of actual facts or events?

    Gates is just another right-wing chickenhawk making brash pronouncements from behind the trouser-legs of actual leaders and soldiers, and berating them for not showing “team spirit.” This latest bullshit is just the latest tired retread of the old “liberals are soft on America’s enemies” crap that Republicans use as a substitute for actual thinking.

  8. 8
    Raging Bee

    He compares Obama unfavorably with Bush, who “had no second thoughts about Iraq, including our decision to invade.”

    That story matches Bush Jr’s own consistent refusal to admit that anything he did might have been a mistake; but it contradicts the latest party line that Bush Jr. was very thoughtful and displeased about how Cheney was running the war. Today’s Republicans can’t even keep their bullshit internally consistent.

  9. 9
    Reginald Selkirk

    “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. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

    Yes, and…. ?
    Which of those would cast the president in a negative light? The only one I think would do that is “doesn’t believe in his own strategy.” And given that the war isn’t his, but rather he inherited it from a previous administration, and that getting out is the main goal, it would not surprise or overly disappoint me if Obama felt it necessary to pursue some short term tactics that he didn’t fully believe in.

  10. 10
    raven

    He compares Obama unfavorably with Bush, who “had no second thoughts about Iraq, including our decision to invade.”

    Well Bush was and is really stupid, A huge failure as a president and a human.

    And Iraq was a huge $2 trillion mistake that accomplished nothing but kill maybe 250,000 people. Including two of my friends. Fuck you Bush and Gates.

  11. 11
    raven

    It’s easy to compare Obama to Bush.

    The Bush Catastrophe almost destroyed the USA.

    Obama has spend 5 years fixing Bush’s mistakes. It will take a few more years.

  12. 12
    Moggie

    Anyone who is “enthusiastic” about war should probably be kept well away from the levers of power. I’d much rather have a leader who doesn’t have a hard-on for killing people.

  13. 13
    Modusoperandi

    caseloweraz “According to a piece on NPR, Gates reserves his worst criticism for Joe Biden.”
    If memory serves, Biden was even more right about things than Obama.

  14. 14
    d.c.wilson

    What did Gates want? A president whooping it up for war like Major Kong riding the bomb? We had eight years of a president who was gung ho for war and it was a disaster. I’m glad Obama is hesistant about committing troops. I was actually thinking of reading this book, but now I’m not “enthusiastic” about it.

    caseloweraz “According to a piece on NPR, Gates reserves his worst criticism for Joe Biden.”

    That actually makes sense in this context. Biden opposed the surge in Afghanistan and the raid on Bin Laden’s compound. If this is Gates’ thinking, then Biden lacks “entusiasm” even more than Obama does.

  15. 15
    Francisco Bacopa

    If Johnson, Nixon, and George Bush the lesser did that, hundreds of thousands of dead people would still be alive today. Including a few that I knew.

    Tapes of cabinet meetings that were made public in the late 90′s show that LBJ was at first inclined to bail on Vietnam. He had to be slowly talked into increasing the US commitment by the cabinet. What finally persuaded him to make the decisions he did was that leaving Vietnam would have had a political cost. it’s easy to focus on the protests and believe that the public didn’t want the war, In fact, there would have been huge political costs to abandoning South Vietnam. Johnson was cold and calculating, and I think he chose to use his political capital to advance the civil rights agenda rather than face the costs of pulling out of Vietnam.

  16. 16
    Michael Heath

    I think the general criticism of Mr. Gates is a strawman. Here’s the relevant text:

    Gates’s problem with the president is less about strategy or substance than about heart. “I myself, our commanders, and our troops had expected more commitment to the cause and more passion for it from him,” Gates writes. He compares Obama unfavorably with Bush, who “had no second thoughts about Iraq, including our decision to invade.”

    President Obama had only bad choices. Mr. Gates doesn’t deny this; Gates is instead criticizing that once a decision on what to do is made, President Obama needed to demonstrate his own unfettered commitment to his military staff.

    I’m a big fan of President Obama. But I think he’s weak in some areas, leadership in the role as executive being the biggest. I appreciate that Mr. Obama got handed a pile of shit not of his own making and how aggravating it can be to clean up somebody’s else’s mess. But that’s not a good excuse for someone at Mr. Obama’s level to be squishy on strategy after decisions are made. I see this as an expected result of putting someone in a high level executive position prior to their having any substantial management seasoning.

    I’ve initiated strategies in the work place myself. One of the most unexpected experiences I had on my first big reform was how often the people that worked for me repeatedly tested my commitment to the change expected by this new strategy. It was relentless, lasting for months. To Gates this is everyday stuff given his many years of leadership, for Obama this is relatively new stuff.

    I don’t think this leadership failure by Obama is a big deal that had much of an impact, if any, on results. So perhaps Gates’ major failure here is bringing this up without also tying it to the expenditure of more blood or treasure. Gates obviously fails by comparing Obama’s failure to lead with Bush’s obstinate commitment no matter the repercussions, but that analytic error of comparison doesn’t negate Obama’s own failure here.

  17. 17
    eoraptor

    Raven @6

    Don’t forget Eisenhower. He was the one who first sent armed “advisors” to Viet Nam. JFK reportedly went ballistic when he was first briefed about it.

    To Eisenhower’s credit, however, he also warned us about the Military Industrial Complex he saw growing in the USA.

  18. 18
    dingojack

    Raging Bee (#7) – while I might agree with the latter part of your criticism of Gates* specifically,and Republicans generally, saying that “Gates is just another right-wing chickenhawk… “, is hard to believe, based on how much time he had spent talking with actual troops (at all levels) both ‘in theatre’ and at home.
    Dingo
    ——–
    * and I’m certainly no fan of Gates.

  19. 19
    dingojack

    Michael – I think you’re missing the point yourself. A general’s job is to win a war, capture a military objective and/or prevent the enemy from doing the same. A politician’s job is weigh the benefits and costs, seek other options and opinions, reflect the best interests of his or her constituencies. It’s a different skill set.
    You seem to be saying (and I could certainly be wrong here) that one should be decisive over thoughtful, make unilateral decisions rather than seeking council, take action (even if it’s completely counterproductive) rather than be prepared to trim one’s sails to suit the conditions one faces. I’d say that’s a rash, reckless, inflexible and autocratic approach to management.(If that is what you were saying).
    Dingo

  20. 20
    dingojack

    eoraptor – so Eisenhower is like a guy driving a car speeding toward a group of pedestrians who yells “I’m gonna hit you” whilst jamming their foot down on the accelerator. Hmmm, very praiseworthy I’m sure. @@
    Dingo

  21. 21
    Michael Heath

    dj,

    The generals ultimately report to the commander in chief, who was/is President Obama. He’s not a mere politician as you claim and he’s responsible for the outcome of military engagements.

  22. 22
    dingojack

    Are the Generals politicians when they are commanding military units?
    Is the Commander-in-Chief a politician as well as a military commander?
    As I said different skill sets are required. Politicians use one set (and a smattering of, what they imagine, is the other), Generals the other set (and occasionally, if they are very talented, a smattering of the Political set).
    Generals can become successful politicians, even leaders, one thinks of Arthur Wellesley or Dwight Eisenhower* but it takes time for them to adjust to the new ways.
    Dingo
    ——–
    * despite my criticism of him above, I think he was genuinely trying his best for his people. (Besides he was ‘.. the best company clerk … [the US] .. ever had’, in a time where the country needed someone who had his skills).

  23. 23
    Nick Gotts

    Why would the president pursue a politically unpopular strategy that he believed would fail?

    Well obviously, his Al Qaeda controllers told him to!

  24. 24
    colnago80

    Re dingojack, the chihuahua @ #22

    Douglas MacArthur is an example of a brilliant military commander who was a failure at politics. By the way, MacArthur is the source of the comment about Eisenhower being an excellent company clerk.

    Eisenhower said about MacArthur, “I studied dramatics under MacArthur for seven yearss”.

  25. 25
    dingojack

    SLC – Still teaching egg-sucking I see.
    Dingo

  26. 26
    eoraptor

    Dingojack @20

    Sounds about right. Although I think he might have shouted, “Watch out! I’m gonna hit you!”

Leave a Reply

Switch to our mobile site