[February 01, 2014] Part 3: The White House. Robert Gates, in his new book, discusses senior leadership issues under both Presidents Bush and Obama. While he praises and criticizes both, it is the President Obama White House that shows the most flaws in following the requirements of senior leaders.
In Part 1 (link here), Gates discussed the U.S. Congress and many of its lack of required senior leader traits. In Part 2 (link here), he addressed the Department of Defense (DoD); specifically the Pentagon’s senior military leadership and some of their lack of foresight about the wars we were in.
The White House is simply a building, but like the Pentagon, it is symbolic of the most senior levels of our civilian government. It includes the Executive Branch of government, including the President and all the individuals, agencies, and departments that report to the President, and that is responsible for administering and enforcing the laws that Congress passes and adhering to the Constitution. This includes the successful prosecution of war and this is where Gates places his most poignant criticisms.
Gates discusses the similarities in national security policies between Presidents Bush and Obama. He notes other similarities between the two presidents: both “had the worst of both worlds on the Hill: they were neither particularly liked nor feared” and did little to reach out to individual members of Congress; nor did either “work much at establishing close personal relationships with other world leaders.”
Although he did not criticize directly President Obama, Gates does show that there was a striking lack of senior leader traits in the current White House. For example, the Vice President does not fare well. Gates says that the VP “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Also, national security aides were often “out of their depth” in foreign policy and military matters, and frequently blurred the chain of command by circumventing more senior officials.
He describes President Obama as controlling and quick to take credit for the good things that happen and to blame others for the bad. He also says that he “never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission.” Of course the troops are smarter than that because they understand if you do not support the mission, then you do not support them.
Not unlike what he had to say about Congress and the Pentagon, Gates is obvious about the White House’s lack of key senior leadership characteristics and its negative impact of on the war as well as the continuation of the toxic atmosphere in Washington DC. On balance, I think I can say, Gates believes the White House is much better than the Congress in its display of senior leader characteristics.
Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert Gates
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