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Douglas Andrews / October 19, 2021

Gates Gives Biden a Failing Grade

The former defense secretary under Bush and Obama didn’t hesitate to name the biggest threat our nation faces.

Bob Gates says he moved to Washington State to get as far away from the other Washington as possible. Who can blame him? Still, any man who can serve as defense secretary to both George W. Bush and Barack Obama is either so wildly effective in the role as to make replacing him unthinkable or so politically astute as to impress both presidents that he’s an apolitical institutionalist rather than a partisan.

Given his 0-and-2 record in Iraq and Afghanistan, we think it’s safe to say Gates is the latter rather than the former. In a “60 Minutes” interview with CNN/CBS dual-citizen Anderson Cooper, Gates said that watching the events unfold in Afghanistan made him sick. This shouldn’t have surprised him, though, given his assessment of our nation’s current commander-in-chief. Gates, in his memoir, called Joe Biden a man of integrity but also wrote that he believes he’s “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

That’s a scathing indictment, to be sure, but it takes an other-worldly measure of Machiavellianism to in the same breath vouch for something as nonexistent as Joe Biden’s integrity.

Or take his criticism of both President Trump and President Biden for the disaster in Afghanistan. The blame is Joe Biden’s, not Donald Trump’s. As Gates rightly noted about Biden’s withdrawal: “They really had a lot of time to plan, beginning with the deal that President Trump cut with the Taliban. So that was in February of 2020.” Gates then went on to say neither president planned the withdrawal or the evacuation properly.

But how can Trump be blamed for failing to leave Biden with a complete plan, knowing that his know-it-all successor would never abide by it? Biden owns the calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan — a withdrawal that, to this day, is incomplete. Joe left Americans behind, and he did so after promising the American people that he wouldn’t.

Biden is certainly an incompetent president, but Gates is a Patriot. He’s an Air Force veteran and a career public servant, and there can be no doubt that he loves this country. But he’s also the swampiest of Swamp creatures — a man who, before becoming W’s defense secretary in 2006, spent nearly 27 years at the National Security Council and the CIA, which he ran under George H.W. Bush. In all, the 78-year-old Gates served under eight presidents, so he’s first and foremost a public servant and a believer in making a career of it. What he’s not so much a believer in is real reform — especially within institutions that have hardened like old arteries.

“He disdains institutions,” says Gates of Trump, “and I think he did a lot to weaken institutions.”

Our institutions needed weakening. They were sclerotic and corrupt. Or does Gates think the FBI’s Russia collusion investigation into President Trump was proper and above board? That the CIA had clean hands in that hoax? And as for our electoral institutions, does he think Biden got all 81 million of those votes on the up-and-up?

Thus, it’s no surprise that Gates is critical of Trump, or that he hopes he doesn’t run for president again in 2024. He knows Trump is a disrupter, and, as a creature of Washington, Gates doesn’t like disruptions.

Still, Gates credits where credit is due: “I think this is a place where President Trump got it right,” he said of Trump’s assessment of China. “He basically awakened Americans and I would say especially the business community to a China that the assumptions about which we had gotten wrong. … The assumption for 40 years was that a richer China would be a freer China. And that’s clearly not going to happen.”

Will Biden listen to Trump and Gates? Or will he continue to coddle the country that Gates calls “the pre-eminent military and economic threat to the U.S.”? The signs so far aren’t encouraging. (See, for example, the pitiful response to that hypersonic missile test.)

Cooper, in closing, asked Gates a question the answer to which should get everyone’s attention, regardless of their political affiliation: “What do you think the greatest threat to democracy is in this country right now?”

“The extreme polarization that we’re seeing,” answered Gates. “The greatest threat is found within the two square miles that encompass the White House and the Capitol building. … The whole of our society seems to be coming unhinged, and I’ve never seen so much hatred.”

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