Dems Launch Preemptive Strike on Gates ‘60 Minutes’ Spot

DNC knocks the former defense secretary on Afghanistan, defends Biden on pullout

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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, out of office a decade now, gets a prime perch at 60 Minutes on Sunday to knock the Biden administration’s handling of last August’s chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, but the Democratic National Committee is having none of it.

Late Friday afternoon the DNC sent out a rocket email saying the former George W. Bush and Barack Obama administration official “spent his time as secretary of defense repeatedly misrepresenting the status of the war in Afghanistan and misleading the public about the strength of Afghan security forces in an attempt to bolster his wrongheaded assessment.”

Gates was “well aware of the shortcomings of the Afghan security forces even as he repeatedly praised the Afghan forces and promised they were months away from taking full control of their country’s security,” it added.

Citing research by Washington Post investigative reporter Craig Whitlock in his groundbreaking book The Afghanistan Papers, the DNC noted that as far back as 2010, when the Taliban was extending its control of the country, Gates claimed Afghan security forces were progressing “ahead of schedule.”

“They are performing well in partnership with coalition troops and will continue to improve with the right training, equipment and support,” he added.

Gates called the Kabul regime’s security achievements—now exposed as false—“a miracle.” They were only “months away” from winning the war, he said.

According to 60 Minute’s preview of the show, “Gates now believes the U.S. military's ability to change a country's political and cultural structure is limited.”

"I believe [you can't change a country]. And I think…there are a handful of exceptions. Germany and Japan after World War II are examples. But we had essentially destroyed both countries. Total defeat," Gates tells 60 Minutes correspondent Anderson Cooper.

"You know, one of my favorite quotes is from Churchill. 'Democracy is not a harlot to be picked up in the street at the point of a Tommy gun,'" Gates says with a laugh. "And I totally believe that."  

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Gates says the televised debacle in Kabul made him feel sick.

"It was really tough… I actually wasn't feeling very well… And I was just so low about the way it had ended," he says. "The other feeling that I had was that it probably did not need to have turned out that way."     

Gates blames both former President Trump and President Biden for the chaotic pullout that resulted in panic and deaths, including 13 American service members killed by a suicide bomber as well as the deaths of Afghan civilians, the 60 Minutes preview said.

"[T]hey 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 tells Cooper. He knocks Trump for “not making a plan then to remove Afghans who had worked for the U.S.” But he adds that, “Biden should have begun evacuation when he said there would be a firm and complete pullout.”

Gates served for 26 years in the CIA and the National Security Council before assuming control of the spy agency. His 1987 nomination by President Ronald Reagan to be CIA director failed because of his misleading testimony in regard to the Iran-Contra affair, among other issues. He got it on his second try under George H.W. Bush in 1991, but retired from government service with the advent of the Bill Clinton administration. In 2006, George W. Bush called him out of retirement to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense.

Obama retained Gates at the Pentagon, during which time he advocated a troop surge in Afghanistan, as he had in Iraq in 2007. It failed to stop the Taliban’s advance.

The showcase of Gates on 60 Minutes comes as many Americans have cried out for accountability for conduct of the 20-year-long Afghanistan war, particularly the lies its leading practitioners told Congress and the public. It’s not clear from the CBS preview whether Cooper presses him on the matter.

The DNC defended Biden on Friday for resisting calls by many critics to try to keep a residual force of CIA and military special operations forces in the country.

“Despite criticism from people who either flip flopped or have an active interest in prolonging the war, President Biden and his administration refused to take the bait and escalate a war that had already cost our nation 20 years, thousands of lives and trillions of dollars,” it said. “And, thanks to the heroics of our service members, President Biden executed the largest airlift in U.S. history and finally ended our nation’s longest running war.”

The jury isn’t in yet on Biden’s management of the messy end in Afghanistan, which has caused widespread and deep anguish and anger. Many Afghans who loyally served U.S. and NATO forces, as well as American citizens, remained trapped in the country. The 2022 elections will have something to say on that.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Gates was first nominated to be CIA director in 1987 by President George H.W. Bush. It was President Ronald Reagan, of course.