January 8

I believe that Barack Obama is a weak and failing president. I believe his policies are contributing to an American decline that will endanger this country and the world in incalculable ways. I think President Obama’s White House has more than its share of enablers, delusional sycophants and people who don’t believe in the United States as the indispensable nation. In my view, an election, giving us an opportunity to try to reverse the trajectory that President Obama has put us on, can’t come fast enough. That said, I don’t think this president, or any other president — at least while they are still in office — deserves to be the target of harmful revelations by former trusted advisers.

President Obama (Larry Downing/Reuters)
President Obama (Larry Downing/Reuters)

From what I have read about former Defense Secretary Bob Gates’s new book, his memoir confirms what we already knew or suspected about President Obama’s modus operandi and attitude. But I think Gates’s revelations are harmful to the president and their release at this time serves no public good. Gates’s memoir will probably further weaken an already weak president — and I believe weak presidents are bad for America and bad for the rest of the world.

Generally, I’m against tell-all books. It is useful for people like Gates to contribute to the historical record and there is nothing wrong with telling your own personal story about your service in government. Gates’s recollection of his experiences is valuable. But for someone in a critical position to call out a president and former colleagues while they are still in office can be particularly damaging. Gates is a savvy, sophisticated player who must have given this some thought. Does he think anything in his book will alter the president’s and the White House staff’s behavior over the remaining 36 months they are in office and reduce the harm he thinks is being done?

An old cliché in Washington is that after secrets have been revealed, the perpetrator will shrug and say, “You screwed up — you trusted me.” I still hope that’s more of a comical notion than it is a truism about those who serve our presidents. Gates served with distinction, and his opinion matters. But I think he should have waited to make some of the candid revelations that are being discussed today and obviously will continue to be discussed in the weeks — if not months — ahead.

President Obama, like all presidents, is fair game for his opponents. But when a president’s own advisers turn on him, especially while he is still in office, it crosses a line. Presidents, White House staff and senior administration officials are all on notice: At every meeting, on every conference call, there’s a book writer in the room. This leads to a dilemma: Do you tailor your comments? Do you hold back your true thinking? Do you remain silent in anticipation of an author ambushing you before you leave office? How much of your advice is intended for the president’s benefit vs. how much of what you say is intended to position yourself with the author in the room? Books like “Duty” discourage candor and erode the mutual trust that is needed to produce the best results.

I will buy the book and read every word. I just wish I was doing so in January 2017 instead of today.

Follow Ed on Twitter: @EdRogersDC