Politics & Government

Former Defense Secretary Gates blasts Congress in Bellingham talk

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed near-despair over the dysfunctional state of the federal government during a Bellingham (Wash.) City Club lecture Wednesday, March 26.

Gates, who served as defense secretary for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said he had behind-the-scenes clashes with both chief executives, but he was more critical of Obama.

Gates, who now lives in Skagit County, noted that he served during the second half of Bush's second term, when re-election was not part of the White House agenda. But he served in the first part of Obama's tenure, and found to his displeasure that re-election was a preoccupation and political considerations were never left out of defense and foreign policy discussions.

Top Obama staffers also tended to meddle in military operations in a way that Gates found inappropriate.

But ultimately, Gates said he had the "highest possible respect" for both presidents. When it came time to make key decisions, and political considerations had been weighed, Obama put the national interest ahead of his own political agenda, in Gates' view.

Reviews of Gates' recently published memoir, "Duty," emphasized his criticism of Obama. But in his Bellingham talk, Gates reserved his harshest words for Congress.

"Over time, the broad dysfunction in Washington wore me down," Gates said. "Every day I was secretary of defense, I was at war with Congress. I was continually outraged by parochial self-interest of members of Congress."

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