Gates vs. Congress Is The Real War

Ex-defense chief's new book is tougher on Capitol Hill than the White House

  • Share
  • Read Later
Rod Lamkey / Getty Images

Then-defense secretary Robert Gates testifying before Congress in 2011.

The first day of coverage of former Robert Gates’ book on his years running the Pentagon have focused largely on the strains between him and President Barack Obama’s White House. That should come as no surprise, given that he was kept on as Secretary of Defense — in the middle of two wars — by a Democratic president eager to end those conflicts launched by his Republican predecessor.

The fact is, you end wars with the defense secretary you have, not the one you wish you had. But with a defense chief and a commander-in-chief from different parties, of different generations and with different temperaments, that sort of clash is hardly unusual.

But what comes through more clearly, at least in the excerpt from Gates’ book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at Waris his total disdain for Congress.

“Such difficulties within the executive branch were nothing compared with the pain of dealing with Congress,” Gates writes in the excerpt published by the Wall Street Journal. “I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country.”

Read that sentence again. It’s breathtaking in its breadth, powerful in its contempt. More importantly, what if he’s right?  

Gates says he was “was more or less continuously outraged” by lawmakers’ intense focus on Pentagon dollars flowing to their home districts or states. “Any defense facility or contract in their district or state, no matter how superfluous or wasteful, was sacrosanct,” he writes. “I was constantly amazed and infuriated at the hypocrisy of those who most stridently attacked the Defense Department as inefficient and wasteful but fought tooth and nail to prevent any reduction in defense activities in their home state or district.”

Amid two wars, crushing troop mental-health concerns and a hidebound resistance to retooling the U.S. military for the 21st century, it has been amazing to witness how much lawmakers pester Pentagon leaders about a handful of airplanes based back home, or other such chaff, buried in national-security wheat. The founding fathers, as wise as they were, never envisioned a large standing army, never mind that selfishness for its continued presence in lawmakers’ districts would become a central tenet of electoral politicking.

Gates says he “came to believe that no one who had actually been in combat could walk away without scars, without some measure of post-traumatic stress.” But Congress, too, has its own mental-health woes. “It was as though most members were in a permanent state of outrage,” he says, “or suffered from some sort of mental duress that warranted confinement or at least treatment for anger management.”

At least the troops’ PTSD will ebb with the wars’ end.

The fact is, Congress as a whole is a far bigger problem than Gates’ dealings with the White House. Executive branch relations can change with an election or new Cabinet secretary, but the congressional modus operandi that Gates cites is pathological. In concert with their uniformed Pentagon allies, lawmakers in key slots on the armed services and appropriations committees block progress and succor sloth through both their action and inaction. It has led to an immensely inefficient defense establishment, flabby in the wrong places and gaunt where it should be muscular.

As if on cue, Gates’ book instantly became a bobby club for lawmakers to batter the Obama administration. “I blame Obama and Biden for not listening to their commanders, rejecting sound advice and Bob Gates talks about that in his book, how military commanders were overruled by the political people in the White House,” Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Fox News Tuesday night.

Civilian control of the military? Imagine that.

20 comments
jmac
jmac

Andrew Sullivan on Gates:    "He compares Obama unfavorably with Bush, who  'had no second thoughts about Iraq, including our decision to invade.'"


Of course Bush had no second thoughts on invading.  He wanted to invade from the first week of his presidency!   I agree with the the blogosphere - the more you read about Gates, the more you wonder.  

Tommy34684
Tommy34684

Do you think he was talking about Graham and McCain?

jason024
jason024

Well when you have clowns in Congress  who refuse to end BILLION dollar programs that even the Pentagon wants to cut, why wouldn't you be pissed off about that?

reallife
reallife

And here it is: the automatic libtard response to any attack on "their" emperor


Uhhh... yeah... but... but... congress is worse


LOL



jmac
jmac

I don't even think Gates was tough on Obama.   He's saying he didn't trust the generals.  He was right!  They were clear they wanted to nation build and stay in there forever.  Obama told them just as clearly they had a deadline to get out.


Gates is the one who is in the wrong.   Obama should have done counter-insurgency , like Biden suggested.   (Which eventually he did).    Gates can go back in Afghanistan and nation build for decades  and waste our money on Karzai (and his brother) when he wins the presidency.  

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

So far as civilian/military relations, Gates was appointed at the height (depth) of discord.  If he comments on Obama and Biden, he would be remiss not commenting on Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz who created the mess Gates was supposed to clean up.  

Duffman
Duffman

Of course Obama dosen't see these wars as his! He inherited them from the worst administration so far! The fact is we coulnd't win in Afganistan or Irak. Since the U.S. populace was unwilling to unleash total war & make even the smallest sacrifice or heaven forbid pay a penny more in taxes. THESE WARS COULD NOT BE WON!. They were intended to drag on and on forever. Frankly I'm surprised Obama is still alive after getting in the way of the war machine.

lordofthefly
lordofthefly

Mr. Thompson,

You often try to deflect. Or maybe your new editors or clueless headline writers worked on your piece.

The takeaway from Gates book is about the men he worked for. Everyone drawing a breath accepts  that Congress is a bunch of greedy, self-centered people who are indifferent to taxpayers. Now that it has been confirmed that Obama is a liar - what many of us suspected in 2008 - this latest bit from Gates does not look good for him, coming from someone as well-respected and high-caliber as Gates. Obama has the tool box for leadership, but he has never known how to use it.


On the other hand, I agree with Obama for getting out of Afghanistan and think he should never have approved the surge in 2009-10. Also Mr.O. had the **Warrior Scholar** Petraeus pegged and was wise not top trust him.He The retired and fired Petraeus was nothing more than a greedy opportunist building his career on the sacrifices of young men and women he commanded. He's still running around mugging cameras - except few people care to see or hear him. They're hobbling around on prosthetic limbs -  the lucky ones, that is.

dellflorida
dellflorida

Did Mr. gates mention saving defense money overseas?. Why we have 10 large military bases in England? the many bases in Europe-when those countries are capable of defending themselves? Us defending Japan one of the richest countries in the world?

We give  defense half a TRILLION dollars every year. If only 10% of that is waste and fraud,theta is $50 billion of taxpayer money wasted every year-in 20 years a Trillion dollars...

   As with other Defense secretary's , he doesn't even know how much the Defense Dept. sepnds or where they spend it....they have never had an accurate,functioning Accounting division,as most corporations have...there are several articles on Google about this...You can't syop waste if you don't know what you are spending and where you are spending.

tommyudo
tommyudo

"“I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country.”


Wow, he has encapsulated the GOP party platform in one sentence.


ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

Good way to deflect the criticism Mr Thompson, good way. Gates slammed Obama and possibly Hillary potential as Commander in Chief and you point to Congress. It is good you are writing with Time. In a more fair and balanced media outlet nobody would even read your article. What really jumps out is the confirmation of suspicion that Obama really does not care for the military as much as he says.

Heizzzenberg
Heizzzenberg

If only we could drag every one of them out into the streets kicking and screaming....and then.... 

(insert your own line here) 


Some Suggestions:


Tar and Feather them

Spank them with a large leather belt

Kick them in the shins


ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@jmacActually he had reservations. So he sent a copy of George Tenet report on Iraq WMDs to Congress. George Tenet, Bill Clinton CIA Director said it was slam dunk that Iraq had WMDs. Plus Bill Clinton advised Dubya to do something about the WMDs as it might fall to al Qaeda`s hand. Al Qaeda were sending small groups already to Iraq. One group under the leadership of Misfer al Ghamdi. Anyway to make it short Hillary and the rest of the Democrat Senators read it and gave the approval to invade. The rest is history. Just curious what is it about truth that Liberals seem to avoid like a plague ? Or the way vampires avoid sunshine ? Just curious.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@jmacLaughable. Obama should have done counter insurgency. Good that he and his clown of a vice president did not wear camouflage suits and parachuted into Iraq. Dont make me laugh this early Jmac.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@formerlyjamesMess is in the eyes of the beholder. This operation was approved by Hillary Clinton and the Dem Senators based on the report by George Tenet Bill Clinton CIA director. Bush would not have sent those men and women if there was no approval. Please include that in your deliberations before hastily judging situations you know nothing about.


ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@lordoftheflyI would prefer an honorable man who risked his life for his country than a community organizer who lied and misrepresented his way to the top. It is just sad for you to smear Gen Petreaus reputation as he could be one of the greatest military strategist this country produced. Not the present President who by all accounts is the worst ever.

jmac
jmac

@ReneDemonteverde Gates has praised both Obama and Hillary to the max.  He respects and admires both of them.  

Obama didn't believe in nation building for decades in Aghanistan.   That's what the generals wanted.  If you're on board with that, fine.  


Obama and his wife (and Biden's wife) have worked harder for the common soldier in the military than any couple I know.   They actually believe it's the soldier who does the hard work; not the military machine (and the weapons).   My retired husband believes that. 

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@ReneDemonteverde Such difficulties within the executive branch were nothing compared with the pain of dealing with Congress,


Those are Gate's own words. If you're unhappy about them at least address the right person.

Titanus
Titanus

@Heizzzenberg I like send them on a tour in Afghanistan just like the soldiers' their policies endanger.