Gates Describes Obama’s Approach Towards The Military As “Pitch Perfect” On Book Tour

When I cited the negative headline and mixed quotations in Bob Woodward’s account of the memoir recently written by Robert Gates, I suspected that the negative tone was largely due to Woodward’s strong anti-Obama bias. Now that Gates has started giving television interviews and has seen the media account, he is not being as critical of Obama as suggested by Woodward. This account is of his appearance on the Today Show:

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates clarified claims he supposedly made about President Obama’s commitment to the military surge in Afghanistan, saying Monday he “absolutely believed” the commander-in-chief supported the mission at the time.

Gates told TODAY’s Matt Lauer that the president fully supported the November 2009 surge but began to have reservations by the following spring.

“But as late as December 2010, he was still saying we were on the right track in Afghanistan,” he said. “So it was in our private conversations that he would express these reservations about whether it was working. But the decisions were right, and I believe that he believed it would work. “

Gates has been under fire for statements made in his new memoir, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” that suggested Obama lacked commitment to decisions he made about his strategy in Afghanistan.

In his memoir, Gates had also wrote “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions” when discussing Afghanistan. He described Obama’s approach towards the military as “pitch perfect” in an interview with NPR which also described Obama’s suspicion of the military’s desire to increase troops in Afghanistan:

INSKEEP: I sense, in listening to you talk, Mr. Secretary, and having read this book, that you’re trying very hard to give a nuanced portrait of the president and others around him. So I want to stipulate here you do speak highly of his decision-making ability. You actually compare his decision-making process to that of Abraham Lincoln. You say that he was very kind to you personally, that he made many very strong decisions. But at the same time, even on occasions when he agrees with you, when you recount stories in the book of inside meetings you seem to be bothered by his attitude, the way that he phrases things when it comes to the United States military. What was the problem that you saw between this president and the military?

GATES: Well, I think that — first of all, I think that the president’s approach towards the military, particularly right after he was elected and initially, was pitch perfect. He — and I will say also Mrs. Obama’s interactions with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with troops and so on, was exactly right, and there was never any question of their support, their affection, their respect for the troops.

I think that — I think that what got things a little bit — well, what started to get things off track was the military leadership pressing for a substantial increase in the number of troops literally days within — after the inauguration. And the feeling on the part of the vice president and others that the military was trying to box the president in and, as they would put it, jam him into making a big decision in terms of an increase of nearly — of some 20,000 troops —

INSKEEP: In Afghanistan.

GATES: — in Afghanistan within days, if not weeks, of becoming president. And I think that that attitude of suspicion of what the military was trying to do had its roots in that — in that discussion in February and March of 2009. And when it came to Afghanistan, and Iraq for that matter but mainly Afghanistan, fed a suspicion that the military was always trying to box the president in and force him into significant troop increases and so on.

And so there was this feeling — and because of various public comments made by senior military officials, by the chairman, by General Petraeus later, by General McChrystal and others, the feeling that they were trying publicly to put the president in a position where he had no alternative but to approve what they wanted. And as I write in the book, looking back I always tried at the time to persuade the president that this was no plot, that the military didn’t have a plan, if you will, to try and box him in. And, frankly, I don’t think I was ever able to persuade him that that was not the case, again primarily when it came to Afghanistan.

A president who both makes the right decisions and has some skepticism as to military recommendations for increasing troops is exactly what we want, and one reason why we have civilian leadership of the military.


  1. 1
    David Duff says:

    This is a complicated issue with too many facets to be covered in a single comment.  I am reminded of Churchill’s relations with his military in which he both resisted fiercely some of their ideas and pushed equally fiercely for his own (mostly daft) ideas. But, and it is a huge ‘but’, in the end he never once over-ruled his Chiefs.
    I have no sympathy for Obama but Gates does not come out of this well.  If he was truly troubled he should have had the guts to resign long ago.  Instead, he leaves on his own terms and then rats out his former boss and colleagues.  Of course, he might be telling the truth but he should have waited until Obama left the White House.  The man is no gentleman, in my view!
    None of us will know the truth of these matters for a considerable number of years – I should live so long, my life already!  However, I gain the impression that Obama suffered from an almost total lack of military and strategic knowledge and I can understand his nervous suspicions regarding the ‘brass’ who surrounded him.  If he can extricate America from Afghanistan with a modicum of face-saving ‘BS’ then he will have done his country a great service – which he owes given the total cock-up he’s made of everything else!

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    It sure looks like you are projecting your own views here, biased by misleading reports from conservative media which aim to project negative claims regardless of the facts.

    The point here is that Gates is far less critical of Obama than portrayed by Bob Woodward, who has a track record of anti-Obama bias in his reporting. Gates did not sound like he was troubled by Obama. Plus for someone with what you claim has “an almost total lack of military and strategic knowledge,” keep in mind that Gates did say that Obama made the right decisions. She skepticism comes not from a lack of knowledge, but from knowledge that military recommendations must be questioned by civilians in control.

    The most ridiculous claim is that Obama has made a “total cock-up he’s made of everything else” considering how outstanding his actual record has been–despite the terrible situation he inherited from Bush, despite Republicans deciding to oppose everything he wants to do purely for political reasons, and despite all the false information spread by the right wing media.

    Just keeping us out of a full-fledged depression when he took office makes Obama a tremendous success. Now we have record business profits and record highs for the stock market, greatly helping out our retirement accounts. Here in Michigan we benefit tremendously from Obama saving the auto industry (which extends to all the smaller companies around here which make their money selling to the auto industry). Unfortunately the recovery does not extend to the poor and working poor, but that is the fault of the Republicans who blocked his attempts at helping them. His stimulus package in retrospect should have been bigger (although it is unlikely he could have passed a bigger one). Still, even though too small, the stimulus not only helped the economy recover, but it is leading to infrastructure improvements which we will continue to benefit from long after he has left office.

    Thanks to Obama on health care, I can now purchase health insurance which is far more comprehensive than I could previously purchase on the individual market, and it can no longer be taken away should I or someone in my family develop an expensive illness. We will no longer see working people forced into bankruptcy because they become ill and lose their insurance. Despite the scare stories, I had no difficulty purchasing the insurance and the insurance company has already paid claims put through this month. I have patients who could not receive coverage in the past who are just starting to get insurance coverage. The number will increase as we approach this year’s March deadline, and I bet will increase even further next year. Again, despite all the scare stories, Obamacare is looking like a tremendous success.

    Perhaps the most important thing of all, with the Republicans under the control of extremists who would turn the United States into a banana Republic, Obama stands as the adult in the room who is defending our liberties, our system of government, and our economic system from the extremists who seek increased government intrusion in our lives, destruction of the checks and balances which make our system of government function, and replacement of our market economic system with a plutocracy.

  3. 3
    David Duff says:

    “It sure looks like you are projecting your own views here”
    Well of course I am, just as you are in the remainder of that fanfare for everything Obama.  However, in this thread I do not wish to be side-tracked into anything other than ‘the Gatesgate affair’.  I think Gates behaved disgracefully, not in what he wrote but when he wrote it.  I have just posted on the subject and this is my final paragraph:
    “I do not like President Obama’s politics and I think that on the whole his administration has been almost totally malignant but on this issue I do have some sympathy for him.  Not the least of his problems, it is now clearly to be seen, is that he was served by ingrates like Bob Gates who lacked the courage to resign and state their opposition publically (thus foregoing any chance of honours!) but who, once they are safely retired out of office, do not have the courtesy to at least wait until the administration ends its term of office before speaking out.  In retrospect and for different reasons, the American intervention in both Iraq II and Afghanistan were unmitigated disasters.  Seen from a distance, Obama’s soft-shoe shuffle towards the exit is entirely right.”

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