Gates and Panetta Blast Obama for Micromanaging Military

Leon E. Panetta, right, and his predecessor Robert M. Gates, share a laugh during the ceremony to unveil a portrait of Gates at the Pentagon, Oct. 29, 2012. (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)
Leon E. Panetta, right, and his predecessor Robert M. Gates, share a laugh during the ceremony to unveil a portrait of Gates at the Pentagon, Oct. 29, 2012. (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

Former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta have joined in accusing President Obama and the White House National Security Council staff (NSC) of micromanaging the military to the point of attempting to set up direct lines of communication to combatant commanders.

"It was micromanagement that drove me crazy," Gates said at the Reagan National Defense Forum at President Ronald Reagan's library in California over the weekend.

Gates said he had to deal with members of the NSC staff who directly called four-star generals on matters of strategy and tactics. The White House also attempted to make direct contact with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Gates said.

"I told JSOC if they got a call from the White House you tell them to go to hell and call me," Gates said to a round of applause from the audience.

Gates said the Obama White House too often let politics influence the policy when it came to the Defense Department.

"I think when a President wants highly centralized control at the White House, that's not bureaucratic, that's political," said Gates, a Republican.

At the same forum, Panetta, a Democrat, had similar criticisms of Obama and his staff on military matters, and singled out the current campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in which Obama has ruled out the use ground combat troops.

"Never tell your enemy what the hell you're going to do," Panetta said.

Panetta and Gates were essentially renewing the criticism they aimed at Obama in their recent books – Panetta in "Worthy Fights" and Gates in "Duty."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who was on the panel with Gates and Panetta, charged that the White House was picking targets to be bombed in the airstrikes against ISIS.

"We've seen this Vietnam movie before," McCain said in a reference to former President Lyndon B. Johnson picking targets in Vietnam.

Gates also made a brief reference to Johnson, in whose administration he had his first government job.

Of all the presidents he served, Gates said, Obama and Johnson were the most inclined to micromanage when it came to the military.

The White House pushed back hard when the Gates book was published, sending surrogates on the talk shows to dispute Gates' criticisms on Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This rush to do books by people who leave an administration while the administration is ongoing, I think is unfortunate," former Obama Chief of Staff Bill Daley said on the CBS' "This Morning" program.

"It's one thing as historians look back on an administration, but in the middle of it, when you're pursuing a war at the same time, and one that is very controversial with the American people and been very difficult on our military, I think it's just a disservice, to be very frank with you," Daley said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@monster.com

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