On Tuesday afternoon The Washington Post’s legendary reporter Bob Woodward provided a preview of former Secretary of Defense Bob Gate’s new book. Called “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” the book harshly criticizes president Obama’s war leadership. The book confirms beltway rumors, so in the end it is really nothing new, but it is damming nevertheless.
While contending that Obama supported the troops, Gates described an Obama who did not trust the military leadership or his own strategic decisions.
Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”
Think about that one for a moment. If Obama thought the mission would fail, but sent in troops anyway, then in his mind he was sending them on a suicide mission–why did he do it then?
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It is very rare for a defense secretary occupying a central position in the chain of command to publish such an antagonistic portrait of a sitting president, but Gates unloaded on Obama and was even worse on the Vice President.
Gates writes about Obama with an ambivalence that he does not resolve, praising him as “a man of personal integrity” even as he faults his leadership. Though the book simmers with disappointment in Obama, it reflects outright contempt for Vice President Joe Biden and many of Obama’s top aides.
Biden is accused of “poisoning the well” against the military leadership. Thomas Donilon, initially Obama’s deputy national security adviser, and then-Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the White House coordinator for the wars, are described as regularly engaged in “aggressive, suspicious, and sometimes condescending and insulting questioning of our military leaders.”
One by one, Gates gave his opinion of the people he dealt with during his defense tenure:
“All too early in the [Obama] administration,” he writes, “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.”
Gates offers a catalogue of various meetings, based in part on notes that he and his aides made at the time, including an exchange between Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that he calls “remarkable.”
He writes: “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the  surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. . . . The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.”
If Hillary runs in 2016, that is going to hurt as potential voters will wonder what does she really believe and what is she saying just for political reasons.
It’s no wonder that Gates summed up his tenure with:
“I did not enjoy being secretary of defense,” or as he e-mailed one friend while still serving, “People have no idea how much I detest this job.”
This book is bound to be in the news for weeks to come.