January 8th, 2014
06:41 PM ET
10 months ago

White House: Obama believes in Afghanistan mission

Updated 8:42 p.m. ET, 1/8/2014

Washington (CNN) - Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' criticism of his former boss President Barack Obama on Afghanistan doesn't align with the commander-in-chief's views, the White House said Wednesday.

In his memoir, which arrived at the White House on Tuesday evening, Gates states Obama "doesn't believe in his own strategy" in Afghanistan.

"For him, it's all about getting out," the former defense chief writes.

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, argued Obama had helped "refocus" troops and commanders on the United States' mission in the country.

Gates' tell-all rattles White House, Congress

"The President devised the mission and has great faith in the troops who carry out the mission and in the mission itself, that it's the right mission to pursue in Afghanistan," Carney said in response to a question from CNN Senior White House Correspondent Brianna Keilar. "I think that's been borne out. That doesn't mean it's not a challenge. Of course it is."

Carney also pointed out that Gates, a Republican who also served as defense secretary in President George W. Bush's administration, writes in his book that he never doubted Obama's commitment to American troops.

White House denies Obama-Biden lunch opened due to gates book

Gates was part of the "team of rivals" Obama assembled at the beginning of his tenure, Carney said, and disagreements on policy were to be expected.

"When you pick a team of rivals, you do so in part because you expect competing points of view and competing opinions," Carney said. "And that's very much what the President expects in foreign policy and domestic policy, and that's what he gets. And he's grateful for it."

Critics have faulted the timing of the memoir's release, though sources familiar with Gates' thinking say he stands by the book and his choice to publish the memoir next week. He argued the book should be taken in full context, noting a considerable amount of praise for Obama, in addition to the tough criticisms.

Carney also defended Vice President Joe Biden against Gates' criticism. Of Biden, Gates wrote, "I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

"He's played a key role in every major national security and foreign policy debate and policy discussion in this administration, in this White House," Carney said.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Tuesday the President "deeply appreciates Gates' service," and noted that the President is open to differing points of view from his national security team.

A former White House official contested the excerpts, first reported by the New York Times and the Washington Post, saying, "I thought the President was a close ally of Gates. It's disappointing, because if Gates had issues you would've expected him to raise them. When I spoke to Gates about the president he was always effusive."

Hayden also said Obama disagrees with Gates' assessment of Biden, hailing the vice president as "one of the leading statesmen of his time."

Gates saw Biden as his "nemesis" on Afghanistan, one source close to Biden’s thinking told CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

Another source described Biden as "relentless" in advancing his point of view against the troop surge in Afghanistan. There is also a feeling among the sources that as people became more skeptical about how the surge was working, Gates became somehow different.

The sources also pushed back on Gates' apparent assumption that politics never plays into any decisions regarding war.

It's not "disingenuous to take into account where the American people are when it comes to war," one source said. Another source said, "Military action needs the support of the American people."
Another source said that while the President "was very fond of Gates," the defense chief and vice president were never close.

Gates also suggests that Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had political motives for their positions on Iraq.

Republicans use Gates’ new book to hammer Clinton, Biden

"Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] surge in Iraq has been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary,” Gates writes. “The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying."

A former White House official responded saying, "President Obama evaluated the merits of the surge but his opposition to it was not political, rather in line with his thought that more of the same was not the right path."

And Democratic groups backing Clinton pointed to her commitment to defeating al Qaeda and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, also noting the praise Gates offers of Clinton as a person in the book.
Gates also offers a scathing critique of Congress calling the legislative body "uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country."

"Congress is best viewed from a distance – the farther the better – because up close, it is truly ugly," Gates wrote in a piece in the Wall Street Journal, which was adapted from his book.

Critics have indicated it would have been more appropriate to wait to release the harsh critique until after Obama leaves office.

But a source close to Gates says he stands by the content and the timing of the book, adding that he didn't want to wait because he believed the content of his book is all still relevant and the content should be discussed real time.

Another source familiar with Gates' thinking told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King that the book was ready to be published in June 2012, an even more politically sensitive time months before the November elections, but Gates waited.

That same source said that the former defense secretary believes Bob Woodward, the longtime Washington Post reporter who reviewed Gates' memorial, has an anti-Obama bias, evident in his account of the book. The source notes the quotes from the memoir in Woodward's review are accurate.

The source also says that Gates was aware of the controversies the book would cause but "just didn't want to pull any punches," saying many books like this are bland because the person writing it either has political ambition or is too close to a big mistake to be fully candid.

Gates realized the toll the job was taking on him, according to the source, and had "become so paternal in concern for the troops" and erred on the side of caution, rather than effectiveness.

CNN's Kevin Liptak, Barbara Starr, Dana Bash, Dan Merica, Dana Davidsen and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.


Filed under: Afghanistan • Hillary Clinton • Jay Carney • Joe Biden • Robert Gates
soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Cynthia Avishegnath

    The most convincing way to vindicate your former boss is to scold him and criticise him for doing what the people wants him to do.

    January 8, 2014 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  2. jerrylax

    blah blah..spin control. admit it obama, you cast off the ME. Of course you will be but a nasty memory when the America people feel the full ramification of your obama doctrine in the middle east. Mr you can keep your health plan/doctor…sure we believe you….

    January 9, 2014 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  3. Winston Smith

    The clown pictured above has proven out to be a weasel, of the first order.

    January 9, 2014 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  4. J.V.Hodgson

    This is sound bite reporting to achieve whatever drama you media want. A good Dem person ( or Republican) reading the book could so far as I have seen ""limited"" quotes could spin the " limited" quotes this in a good way or bad way.
    That said, I have one comment.
    Obama made it clear he wanted out of Aghanistan and Iraq and that would not change it was his oft repeated political promise.
    its clear also that the Military and Gates were not as interested in "Getting out as Obama" or the American people. Obama is CIC an deserves respect, not criticism from his appointee Gates at this time .... OK when Obama's is gone fine.
    These are the opinionated leaks of a respected ex Defense secretary..... but shall we recognize its one sided and Obama has held his tongue out of respect for his appointees basically job well done.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    January 9, 2014 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  5. dougjmiller

    It's already started. The mainstream media will ignore, minimize, distort and then bury this indictment of Obama, in order to protect their master.

    January 9, 2014 01:48 am at 1:48 am |
  6. Anonymous

    What a nice guy. I should have known.

    January 9, 2014 02:48 am at 2:48 am |
  7. Anonymous

    I wonder who would hire this guy. Maybe he can team up with Snowden. Keep your eye on this guy.

    January 9, 2014 02:49 am at 2:49 am |
  8. croaton999

    The real question for Americans is, who do you believe?

    January 9, 2014 06:55 am at 6:55 am |
  9. Donald Mott

    Why isn't it making headlines that the book also praises Obama in re: capturing/killing Osama Bin Laden, says that he got most things right, and has generally good marks for Hillary Clinton?

    January 9, 2014 06:57 am at 6:57 am |
  10. Me too

    I am tired of the neo-cons who think any war is a good war. These are the people who brought you the domino theory of SE Asia. Let’s face it we lost in Viet Nam. I still vividly remember the shot of the last helicopter evacuating people off the roof of a building. Viet Nam fell. Did terrible things happen? Maybe for a while, but now Viet Nam is a vacation spot. The people who suffered are the poor people who had to serve and die there. 65,000 U.S. lives wasted. The military and the CIA have become the fourth branch of government, totally unchecked by the other three branches. I am 60 years old. I was raised believing that America was good and the other guys are bad. However, I have come to learn that our government has done some terrible things, propping up evil dictators around the world. Let’s not forget Iran Contra. We wasted over 4000 American lives in Iraq and trillions of dollars. For what? We left that country in shambles having killed hundreds of thousands of their people. Is that country really better off now than under Saddam Hussein? Unchecked military spending brought down the Soviet Union. It is killing us. The cost of Bush’s two wars is a good part of the reason our economy is trashed.

    January 9, 2014 07:00 am at 7:00 am |
  11. Gene

    There are some who criticize CNN for cherry picking and sensationalizing certain excerpts from the book. They point out places where Gates praised the President for things he did, which CNN failed to mention. I think that CNN is taking on the persona of a Fox-Lite. It's getting hard to trust the news channel when they fail to give a "Fair & Balanced" analysis of a topic.

    January 9, 2014 07:13 am at 7:13 am |
  12. BILL, WI

    Does he believe in it, or did he just come to accept it when his arbitrary "exit strategy" deadlines came and went.

    January 9, 2014 07:21 am at 7:21 am |
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