Gates should have said something sooner

The criticism has been coming from all ideological quarters: Robert Gates should have waited longer before airing his differences with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, the White House staff and Congress.

I think he waited too long.

The critics, including Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., are probably correct about the damage the former defense secretary has done with his memoir. He has undermined a sitting president’s ability to conduct foreign policy, complicated the end of the war in Afghanistan and made it less likely that future presidents will reach across the aisle for top advisers.

In his memoir, Gates also undermines his reputation as an honorable man above Washington maneuvers. Now he looks like just another hack settling scores — and he’s on a book tour defensively complaining, as he did on NBC's “Today” show Monday, that his words have been “hijacked” by partisans “taking quotes out of context.”

For all these reasons, Gates should have made his objections known sooner, when he still might have been able to do something about them. Instead, by his own account, he seethed quietly. Had he spoken up at the time — privately or, if that didn't work, publicly — he might have had some influence in changing the problems he saw: a worthless Congress, an insular White House staff and a president insufficiently devoted to his own policies.

“I never confronted Obama directly over what I . . . saw as the president’s determination that the White House tightly control every aspect of national security policy and even operations,” he writes. “His White House was by far the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon.”

On CBS’ “Sunday Morning,” Rita Braver asked Gates whether, in retrospect, he should have spoken to the president about this directly. Gates replied that “things don’t happen that way if the president doesn't want them to happen that way.”

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