WASHINGTON -- In a forthcoming memoir, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates charges that President Barack Obama lacked passion toward the military, with two exceptions -- the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the leaking of classified information.
"One quality I missed in Obama was passion, especially when it came to the two wars. In my presence, Bush--very unlike his father--was pretty unsentimental. But he was passionate about the war in Iraq; on occasion, at a Medal of Honor ceremony or the like, I would see his eyes well up with tears. I worked for Obama longer than Bush, and I never saw his eyes well up," wrote Gates. "Obama could, and did, express anger (I rarely heard him swear; it was very effective when he did), but the only military matter, apart from leaks, about which I ever sensed deep passion on his part was 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' For him, changing that law seemed to be the inevitable next step in the civil rights movement. He presumably was also passionate about health care reform, but I wasn't present for those discussions."
Gates wrote that Obama was so angry about a leak of classified information to The New York Times that the president told the author he wanted a criminal investigation into the matter.
The passage in "Duty: Memoirs of A Secretary At War" is one of several where Gates criticizes Obama's style, but not the end result. Gates notes that he supported the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but says that he and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen were "blindsided" when Obama told them the day before the State of the Union that he intended to endorse repeal in the speech. In another passage, Gates laments the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, now retired, after comments he made were published in a now-infamous Rolling Stone article, but adds that the president had no choice.
Gates cringes at political considerations being made in military matters. In summing up Obama's 2009 surge in Afghanistan, he concludes that the debate "had been driven more by the White House staff and by domestic politics" than any other he had experienced. Yet, he writes, "Obama did the right things on national security."
Obama showed a lack of passion in Afghanistan, Gates wrote. "When soldiers put their lives on the line, they need to know that the commander in chief who sent them in harm's way believes in their mission. President Obama never did that. He rarely spoke about the war in Afghanistan except when he was making an announcement about troop increases or troop drawdowns or announcing a change in strategy."
But, as he does with many of his criticisms, Gates softens the blow with a qualifier. "Having said that, I believe the president cared deeply about the troops and their families," he wrote. "And he would ensure that significant resources flowed to the Veterans Affairs Department and that it was protected from budget cuts. I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission."
The book is set for release by Knopf on Tuesday. The Huffington Post obtained a copy on Friday. The New York Times and The Washington Post have published previews of the book, and the Wall Street Journal released an adapted excerpt from the book.