Despite some of the recent critiques leveled against politicians in Robert Gates’ new book, the former defense secretary seems to be a gracious man willing to overlook most cases of indecision and faulty reasoning. There’s one politician, however, who Gates appears downright loathe to forgive.
Gates spoke on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday morning about his earlier comments that President Barack Obama didn’t do enough to sell the importance of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the troops overseas. But despite that, Gates noted that American soldiers are a resilient bunch.
“I think the troops knew the score,” he said. “The troops believed — and believe — that they were being successful in their mission. So I think they were able, to a certain extent, to set aside the politics here at home.”
But then the secretary caught himself. “Although,” he continued, “when you have somebody like the Senate Majority Leader come out in the middle of the surge and say, ‘This war is lost’ — I thought that was one of the most disgraceful things I’ve heard a politician say. That sends a riveting message to kids putting their lives on the line that they’re doing it for nothing. And that was absolutely not the case.”
The Senate Majority Leader, of course, was Nevada Democrat Harry Reid. The year was 2007, Gates’ first year at the Defense Department and the beginning of the surge — the flood of American troops into restive regions in Iraq that is largely credited with turning the tide of the war. The setting was a press conference during a summit on the Iraq War. And Reid’s remarks?
“I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense and — you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows — this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything,” Reid said on the Senate floor.
Former President George W. Bush and some Republican lawmakers blasted the remarks at the time, claiming it could decimate troop morale. But despite his silence, it’s now clear that Reid’s comment made the normally-calm Gates’ blood boil — and seems to still do so today.
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