Ex Defense Sec. Robert Gates Blasts Washington’s Self-Centeredness

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is in a uniquely qualified position to assess the current state of American government. He presided over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. His diagnosis? Washington stinks. Both sides of the aisle.

The Wall Street Journal has posted an excerpt from the memoir of Robert Gates, and it is fascinating and frustrating. He confirms the suspicions that I have harbored for years—that there isn’t much difference between Republicans and Democrats practically speaking. Like most Americans, politicians are more interested in keeping their jobs than doing their jobs, but unlike the rest of us, politicians don’t have to do their jobs to keep them.

Robert Gates blasts Congress, which turns out to be the biggest loser in this excerpt:

Such difficulties within the executive branch were nothing compared with the pain of dealing with Congress. Congress is best viewed from a distance—the farther the better—because up close, it is truly ugly. 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.


I was more or less continuously outraged by the parochial self-interest of all but a very few members of Congress. Any defense facility or contract in their district or state, no matter how superfluous or wasteful, was sacrosanct. 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.

He doesn’t have that many nice things to say about the White House either, although he mentions that the Obama administration was harder to work with than the Bush administration because it micromanaged everything (imagine that):

Most of my conflicts with the Obama administration during the first two years weren’t over policy initiatives from the White House but rather the NSS’s1 micromanagement and operational meddling, which I routinely resisted. . . . The controlling nature of the Obama White House, and its determination to take credit for every good thing that happened while giving none to the career folks in the trenches who had actually done the work, offended Secretary Clinton as much as it did me.

All in all, the excerpt was fascinating, and I recommend you check it out. If you needed an insider’s confirmation that pretty much the whole of Washington is self-serving, here it is.

  1. National Security Staff []