Posted by: sweeneyblog | March 27, 2014

Robert Gates Visits Bellingham, Rails Against Congress

Robert Gates

Robert Gates

It was a packed house at the Bellingham City Club to see former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speak. He spoke at length about the differences between the two presidents he served as secretary (Bush and Obama) and his deep frustration with Congress.

He opened, like a good public speaker, with a few jokes at his own expense, noting that the neck brace was a result of telling his wife he was thinking of going back into government service.

He described his tenure as being “at war with Congress” and spared no adjective in his condemnation. “Incompetent, thin-skinned, parochial, self-interested” and “violating every norm of social behavior.” After the crowd had settled a moment, he followed up with, “And that is a totally bipartisan statement.” He noted that while he was secretary, not a single budget was approved before the start of that fiscal year.

He spoke of Obama and Bush. Gates is a Republican, and I expected some criticisms of the current president, but he was mild at best. He acknowledged he had few arguments with either man and they both were respectful, never cruel or nasty. He said he crossed swords with some of Obama’s inner circle, but he credits that to the phase of his presidency. “By the time I arrived at the Bush administration, virtually all national security issues were settled. Most of Bush’s sharp-elbowed political gurus had departed, leaving Cheney the lone hawkish outlier.”

Chuck and Dee Robinson of Village Books

Chuck and Dee Robinson of Village Books

By comparison, Gates said domestic policy concerns did “meddle” in his work in the Obama administration, but he acknowledged that Obama’s “team of rivals idea worked well.” Both men disagreed with military leaders, and in most cases, he said they were right to do so. Later on, in response to a question, he said his biggest criticism of Bush and Obama was their claim that the president can unilaterally decide to kill an American citizen on foreign soil with a drone. He believed neither man would ever abuse that power, but down the road, who knows.

He had harsh words for anyone who sits in that seat. “Presidents are too quick to fire weapons and the result is the world views us as a militaristic country . . . War is inevitably tragic and presidents can use tools other than a hammer to solve problems.” He did support increased funding for personnel and equipment within the military. “The U.S. has a global role and global responsibilities.”

Overall, my impressions were of a man who had seen too much, had been asked to do an impossible task and was fed up with the entire DC life. His book, sold by Chuck and Dee Robinson at the door, contains few bombshells and a bit of retroactive history but is a unique perspective: a realist Republican who looks beyond partisanship toward practicality. I hope we have not seen the last of men like Gates.

One more note: When I arrived at the Bellingham City Club, John Stark was the only other reporter there and he admitted he had just heard about the event fifteen minutes before it began. I would think a speaker of this caliber would draw more media attention but there was no sign of any other press. I’m glad I attended and if you want to support this sort of freelance journalism, feel free to toss me a few bucks here.



  1. “Left” and “Right” : A little Bible study

    Remember what Jesus said: ‘Goats on the left,
    sheep on the right’.
    To Peter, ‘if you want to catch fish do it from the
    right side of the boat. They did and filled the boat.

    Left & Right…
    Origin of Left & Right…

    I have often wondered why it is that Conservatives are called the “right” and Liberals are called the “left”.
    By chance I stumbled upon this verse in the Bible:
    “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.” Ecclesiastes 10:2 (NIV)
    Thus sayeth the Lord. Amen.

    Can’t get any simpler than that.

    Spelling Lesson
    The last four letters in American……….I Can
    The last four letters in Republican……..I Can
    The last four letters in Democrats………Rats

    End of lesson. Test to follow in November 6, 2014

    Remember, November is to be set aside as rodent removal month.


    • yes, I am considering the source!

    • What a simple minded fool…anyone who uses the moniker John Galt is no Christian. Grow up would you, and lose your adolescent fixation with Ayn Rand!

      • I will pass that on to my father John Galt, Sr.

        Have you no shame for “your” foolish comments?

  2. Riley, Interestingly enough, the word didn’t get out that much to the Veterans community, either, and we would have liked to have known about it. It speaks volumes for President Obama, first of all, that he retained Gates rather than simply “cleaning house”. I’m pro military and (somewhat) liberal in many regards, but I always had a high regard for Mr. Gates. Thanks for your summary. I’m emailing the column to the VFW. Hopefully they will read that last line and (individually) take it to heart, even though most of them are hard core conservatives.

  3. Shortly after his retirement, Gates spoke to several thousand people at my Grandson’s WSU graduation ceremony. One memorable line was about civil servants. He said they are hard working, dedicated people who do the necessary work of government and deserve our respect and support.

    Maybe we should dispense with elected officials and hire the experts to do the governing. Having said that I would add that as elected officials go, Washington state is fortunate to have Senators Murray and Cantwell. They are among the best.


    • Patty Murray “among the best”? Thanks for my daily laugh.

  4. Yes, we are indeed fortunate to have Murray and Cantwell. We need some levelheaded adults in the room in the US Senate with numbskulls like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz on the loose.

    • Speaker of numbskulls how about Barbara Boxer and Elizabeth (the Indian poser) Warren?

      • Yup, we’re fortunate to have them too!

    • A sexist comment.

      • Once again, everyone be nice to each other. A little trash talk towards elected officials is fine, but not to each other.

      • i assume your reply was also directed to Nancy.

      • It was aimed at everyone – I’m not assigning blame, just noticing things are getting heated.

      • How about an example so that “everyone” can be enlightened as to proper Sweeney Blog commenting etiquette?

        For example “What a simple minded fool…anyone who uses the moniker John Galt is no Christian. Grow up would you, and lose your adolescent fixation with Ayn Rand!” Sweet Nancy on March 27th.

  5. Back to Gates speech at the City Club…I got a laugh when he typified WA DC as a place where you can see politicians in a lover’s lane holding hands with themselves. Stark’s article in the Herald was pretty accurate if you disregard the headlines which I hope he didn’t write. Thanks again Riley, for being there and reporting so promptly.

    As to what more would we like?
    How about updates on where County council is going with funding for jail alternatives and contributing resources for alternatives to incarceration where there are mental health professionals trained to pay attention so people are not killing or hanging themselves as well as programs to help folks who need help to avoid missing court dates and giving recently released inmates places to stay and help to stay sober and earn money to eat so they don’t have to stand in line if they don’t want to.

    Overcrowding the jail is not going to help a new one get built.

  6. Riley,
    This is the first I’ve heard that you’ve become a Republican.

    You write

    “He spoke of Obama and Bush. As a Republican, I expected some criticisms of the current president, but he was mild at best.”

    Abe Jacobson aka obsolete grammarian

    • You are on to me! Curses, my secret is out!

      • Republican poser! I am reporting this to Charlie Crabtree post haste for prosecution.

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