• With: Jason Riley, James Freeman, Kim Strassel, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Matt Kaminski


    FREEMAN: Their job of politicians is to describe it in a new way because they know that's the right answer.

    GIGOT: Kim?

    STRASSEL: Look, you know, a lot of people want Republicans to go out and just say get rid of all of these programs. By the way, that was the approach a lot of them had prior, for instance, to the 1990s welfare reform. It was the decision to finally go out and work with the other side, push them, pressure them, to actually have to reform the program, not say get rid of it, but reform it, that finally allowed for some major progress in that area. And I think that that's what you're seeing Republicans doing, is talking, not saying get rid of these programs, but figure out a way to make them operate much better.

    GIGOT: All right. Very good debate. We'll have more on this in future shows.

    When we come back, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates offering a rare glimpse inside the Obama White House. What his memoir tells us about the president, his administration and its foreign policy.


    GIGOT: Well, a memoir by Robert Gates is making big news ahead of its release next week with the former defense secretary claiming in the book that President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted to each other that their opposition to the 2007 Iraq troop surge had been political, that the president did not believe in his own Afghanistan War strategy and was focused instead on getting out. Gates also writes that Vice President Joe Biden, quote, "has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."

    We're back with Kim Strassel. Wall Street Journal columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady; and editorial board member, Matt Kaminski, join the panel.

    Mary, what are we learning from the excerpts in the book so far and the memoir that we didn't know?

    MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: Well, I think we knew or we suspected that the president had a very -- looked at war in a very political way and made his decisions driven by politics. But I think what comes across more clearly is just how much the war was micromanaged out of the White House and how much the White House resented the idea that the generals were -- you know, wanted to do the surge and sort of were the ones who put together the idea of the surge and that they had to accept it. That's not the path that they wanted to go down.

    GIGOT: And yet, Gates also writes that Obama made all the right decisions on Afghanistan even if he didn't believe in those decisions. How do you mesh those two statements?

    MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: It's a conflicted memoir. And it's also critical of George Bush for not focusing enough on Afghanistan, by focusing on Iraq. But he pointed out in the section about Bush that during his time with George Bush as defense secretary, not once --


    GIGOT: Last two years.

    KAMINSKI: Yes, that's right. Not once did domestic political considerations weigh in on issues of war and peace. That's actually the big difference with President Obama.

    GIGOT: But did Obama's lack of confidence in his own strategy in Afghanistan, has that ended up undermining the success, relative success, of the troop surge and where we are now as we begin to leave?

    O'GRADY: For sure. That's what he's saying. And, you know, he makes the point that he's always treated nicely by everyone.

    GIGOT: Gates was?

    O'GRADY: Yeah.

    GIGOT: Yeah.

    O'GRADY: But he says he couldn't get anything done. And I think, you know, as you read through his complaints, what you see is really just a lack of leadership on the part of the commander-in-chief.

    KAMINSKI: I think the really telling point in the part about Afghanistan was that he supported the troops, Gates says, but he didn't support his own strategy.

    GIGOT: Right.

    KAMINSKI: He announced the surge in 2009, but then against the advice of Robert Gates and David Petraeus, the military commander at the time, he put a deadline on all withdrawal. Meaning that he undermined his own war effort and undermined the troops that he was sending into Afghanistan.

    GIGOT: Kim, what about this issue that he talks about where Hillary Clinton and President Obama both acknowledged in a meeting that their opposition to the Iraq surge in 2007 had been political? I think we more or less knew that, too, although to see it phrased like that and acknowledged is nonetheless telling confirmation of detail. But what about the impact of that potentially on Hillary Clinton going into 2016? Any fallout?

    STRASSEL: Yeah, no. I think it's a real problem for her credibility, especially given, you know, some of her behavior during the primary election when she was running against Barack Obama. She wanted to fashion herself as more hawkish than him. But now we know that a lot of the positions that she was taking was actually driven as much by politics as they were driving his position. So this does put her in a more awkward position should she decide to run, coupled with her not very exciting tenureship as secretary of state.

    GIGOT: Matt, what does this tell you about her?

    KAMINSKI: About her?

    GIGOT: Yeah.

    KAMINSKI: I think we knew in her time in the administration she was very calculating and always looking ahead to a potential run, and that everything is politics with this crowd, unfortunately.

    And the one thing about the Gates book is we still have three more years of this president with a lot of foreign policy fires out there. And there's no indication that President Obama has actually learned or grown as a commander-in-chief if you look at the Gates account of just the first two years and see what's happening right now in the world.

    O'GRADY: And it's not only a problem with the president. It's a problem with Congress also. And I think what you have here really is a wartime secretary of defense giving basically an outpouring of grief about the way that Washington treats the military. These aren't little green army men that they're sort of just moving around. And he feels like they're playing video games or something. And these are real people and it kept him up at night.

    GIGOT: All right, Mary, thank you very much.

    When we come back, he's been billed as the GOP's best hope in 2016, but now political scandal is putting New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's reputation as a straight shooter to the test. Could Bridgegate bring an end to his presidential ambitions?


    CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: I'm sick over this. I have worked for the last 12 years in public life developing a reputation for honesty and directness and blunt talk.