Robert Gates's memoir is all set to be released and The Washington Post's Bob Woodward got himself a copy. Unfortunately, Woodward's account of the book is as flawed and overly simplified as, er, Woodward's own books about the Obama administration. Here is Woodward:
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.”
Read that again. According to Woodward, it is a serious charge against a president to say that he had doubts about the "course he had charted." Since the same author wrote three increasingly critical books about a certain former president who never expressed the slightest doubts about disastrous policy choices, you would think Woodward might know better. Apparently not.
In contrast, here is how The New York Times's Thom Shanker, who also managed to get a copy of the book, writes about the same subject:
In a new memoir, Mr. Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration who served for two years under Mr. Obama, praises the president as a rigorous thinker who frequently made decisions “opposed by his political advisers or that would be unpopular with his fellow Democrats.” But Mr. Gates says that by 2011, Mr. Obama began expressing his own criticism of the way his strategy in Afghanistan was playing out.
This makes the same point, but in a less judgemental way. And here is Gates himself:
“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,” Mr. Gates writes. “For him, it’s all about getting out.”
I don't have a copy of Gates book, but as far as I can tell, Gates is not saying whether the president is right or wrong to feel these things, i.e. whether he was motivated by the realities of the situation. But there is a clue—one that Woodward reports lower in the article:
Gates’s severe criticism is even more surprising — some might say contradictory — because toward the end of “Duty,” he says of Obama’s chief Afghanistan policies, “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.”
Huh? This acknowledgment leaves Woodward's opening paragraphs looking nearly incomprehensible.
Woodward does go on to mention a few areas where Gates really does seem mad: “I felt he had breached faith with me...on the budget numbers,” Gates writes of Obama.
On Afghanistan, though—where there is plenty to criticize in the White House's approach—the judgement feels more like Woodward's than Gates's. It wouldn't be the first time that Woodward showed a strong dislike for the president, and allowed his opinions to get ahead of the facts.