On Monday's Show: Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Jan 10, 2014
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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been making news all week with his forthcoming memoir. Gates recounts his years leading the Pentagon under both Presidents Bush and Obama during a time of two wars. Yesterday, Gates sat down with Steve. It was his first interview since his book exploded in the headlines, and he's arguing that the book is being misconstrued. We will be broadcasting the interview Monday, but thought we'd take a chance to preview it with Steve here in the studio.

And Steve, give us a preview here and a sense for what Gates says is wrong with the news coverage so far.


Well, this book has been described as just hammering President Obama and his administration. And let's be clear: I've read the book. It does hammer President Obama and his administration.

GREENE: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: But it also praises the president. Gates actually compares the president to Abraham Lincoln in his decision-making style, and Gates is arguing that some of the early reviews and news articles just kind of get his facts wrong in subtle, but important ways.

GREENE: Like what? Examples?

INSKEEP: Well, particularly the war in Afghanistan. The Washington Post wrote about this in a way that implies - if you read the article a certain way - that you might see that as saying President Obama approved a strategy to add troops in Afghanistan in 2009, believing the strategy would fail.

GREENE: A serious charge.

INSKEEP: That would be incredibly cynical for a president to do that. Gates says I never wrote that. I never believed that. I don't think the president ever did that. Gates says what happened here, really, was the president approved a strategy in 2009, added troops in Afghanistan, thought and hoped it would work, but became skeptical later on. And other people in the White House staff hammered on him and stoked his doubts, and that he became less and less confident in his strategy.

Overall, this is a nuanced picture of the president, part of a book of more than 500 pages, although it does accuse the president of a lack of passion in promoting the war in Afghanistan, and a lot of other things.

GREENE: Well, what about the people around the president? I mean, a lot of what Gates wrote about them has been making headlines, as well, surely.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Yeah. And he's also nuanced there. There's really interesting portraits - at least efforts at portraits - by Gates of people that he knew, but he's a lot harsher. He felt that a lot of people on the White House staff did not precisely know what they were doing, didn't know nearly as much as they thought that they did, didn't go through the regular channels in the chain of command, which seems to be really important to Gates.

He describes, also, a total focus on politics, that in his view, people inside the White House were far more concerned about domestic politics than in getting the foreign policy right. And he is especially brutal about Vice President Joe Biden.

GREENE: I mean, we've reported a lot about Robert Gates on this program. You've now read this book. You've spent some time listening to him reflect. Do you feel like you've learned something new about this man?

INSKEEP: You get a clear voice of Robert Gates when you read this book, for better or worse. And people will challenge, and already are challenging, his versions of events. But you have a guy who is writing this political memoir, in effect, who is completely unrestrained, it seems. He is profane on many pages. He said that's the way he wanted to be. It's the way real people talk. He is giving his brutal takes on people, in many cases, although he's also trying to be nuanced. This is a guy who says he wants to put it all on the line in this book.

GREENE: All right. Steve's interview with Robert Gates airs on the program on Monday. Steve, we look forward to hearing that conversation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.