January 12th, 2014
01:38 PM ET
11 months ago

Gates defends controversial book

(CNN) – Bob Gates defended his new book Sunday, after some pundits blasted the former defense secretary for criticizing a sitting president and an administration in which he recently served.

In an interview with CBS’s “Sunday Morning,” Gates said the partisan culture of Washington was quick to focus on the negative statements in the book, but less interested in the positive marks he gave President Barack Obama.

But he stood by everything he wrote.

"The way people are looking at the book reflects the polarization of our political process at this point," he said. "A lot of people - not everybody – (are) going to look at this book in terms of how does it advance (their) particular political agenda, or how does it damage (their) political agenda.”

‘That's not an unfair thing to say’

Gates, a Republican, was appointed secretary of defense by former President George W. Bush in 2006 and was asked to stay on by Obama. He left the position in 2011.

Indeed, Republicans wasted no time pouncing on the critiques of Obama, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, in the book, "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War."

Gates writes that Obama lost faith in his own Afghanistan policy, and he details a conversation in which Clinton told Obama she opposed the 2007 Iraq troop surge as a senator because she was facing Obama in the Democratic presidential primary.

He also said that Biden was “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Republicans eager to trounce Clinton before she potentially launches a 2016 presidential bid began using the book as a way to paint her as someone who makes life-and-death decisions based purely on politics.

"That's going to be a big problem,” said Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee, on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It's all political, it's ‘Which way does the wind blow? I've got to figure out how I get on that.’"

With Biden also being a possible 2016 candidate, Spicer said “both of them are going to suffer because (Gates) is someone who has a tremendous amount of respect and credibility in this town."

Mo Elleithee, communications director for the Democratic National Committee, said on “State of the Union” that Biden has “been on the right side more often than not.”

He said Biden, Obama and Clinton all ran on the promise of ending the war in Iraq and withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, a promise that so far is on track to ring true if Biden and Clinton run for president.

"They will do well running on that," Elleithee said.

In the interview that aired Sunday, Gates made sure to reiterate the admiration he had for Obama and pointed to the decisions on which they agreed. But he said he felt obligated to publish his thoughts on his one concern.

"Over the course of 2010 or in 2011, the President began to have his own reservations about whether it would all work,” he said. “That's not an unfair thing to say."

Gates also drew a line of contrast between Obama and Bush.

"It's one thing to tell the troops that you support them. It's another to work at making them believe that you believe as president that their sacrifice is worth it, that the cause is just, that what they are doing was important for the country, and that they must succeed," Gates told CBS.

"President Bush did that with the troops when I was secretary. I did not see President Obama do that. As I write in the book, it was this absence of passion, this absence of a conviction of the importance of success, that disturbed me."

As for Clinton, Gates was asked whether he thinks she would make a good president.

“Actually, I think she would," Gates said.

What about Biden?

"Well, I suppose to be even-handed, I would have to say I suppose he would," he said.

Bad timing?

On the timing of the book, Gates said, “I didn't think that waiting until 2017 to weigh in on these issues … made any sense."

Democrats fiercely condemned Gates’ decision to publish a book critical of Obama while he was still in office. Even some Republicans were not comfortable with the move.

Sen. John McCain, who says he has great respect for Gates, said Sunday if he were in Gates' position, he might have waited a little bit longer to release the memoir.

The Arizona senator said the book "surprised all of us who know him, and he's decided to really kind of let loose."

"But I also respect his ability to voice his views any time he wants to," McCain added.

Gates, asked in the interview Sunday if he regretted anything he wrote, replied, “I don’t.”

“I think that it's an honest account,” he said.

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soundoff (148 Responses)
  1. Bob

    Truth hurts. REPUBLICAN 2016.

    January 12, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  2. michael

    Okay Gate lets hear all the positive statements, looks like your partisan about this President, and everybody else is polarizing.

    January 12, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  3. bill

    Gates "the only time obama was ever passionate about the war was on "don't ask". doesn't that tell you everything???? As far as Gates not writing about obama-at the end of WWII all those under Hitler testified "they were only following orders" and he hung them because they did not speak out??? We have a president that lies to cover his lies-YOU CAN KEEP YOUR INSURANCE-IT WAS A VIDEO which two days ago the truth came out that it was terrorists but we already got obama elected–NOBODY TOLD ME. I am ashamed of this president and as a vet I am really ashamed called him president. Nixon lied once and was impeached.

    January 12, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  4. Wallaceboy

    When someone in DC tells the truth based on first hand experience and does it in a balanced way the press has no idea how to handle it. In the mind of the press, you must take sides. Gates says some good things about Obama and some critical things, they can't pidgin hole him. Also, critical comment from a guy with such credentials, experience and reputation puts democrats in a tough place. In the end, the left and their press want to move away from it. Note how "bridge gate" took over the airtime in a heartbeat. The press is much more comfortable trashing a Republican than accepting critique of the "chosen one"......

    January 12, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  5. Bjorn Bjornsen

    Oh please, if it had been a completely Bush bashing memoir they wouldn't have a problem with it ... :s

    January 12, 2014 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  6. Patrish

    AI find his timing interesting. He could have waited a few years to do his memories, but as a Republican he figured it would help his party. He gave Bush a shinning report, not so with Democrat President. I have trouble with' tell all' books. No one writes them because they are 'nice' guys and want to help the world. There is ALWAYS some other motive. It's also tacky to write anything about a administrations you just left – wait a few years and then write your memories.

    January 12, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  7. talbet

    It's truly a shame that he ended up being a traitor to his own country.

    January 12, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  8. Nodack

    The very thing Gates complains about the most is partisan politics by ALL in Washington and I just know that 99.9999999999999999999999999% of the post here will be total partisan politics. And Gates wonders why they are the way they are.

    January 12, 2014 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  9. Opinion8it

    OBAMA: "Bob, how long do you need to train the Afghan army"
    GATES: "14 months".
    OBAMA: "okay, thanks"
    [Gates leaves the office and closes the door]

    [Four years later]
    GATES: "Whaaaaaaa, whaaaaaa, Obama made me do it......"

    January 12, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  10. dougjmiller

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

    January 12, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  11. gh

    Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

    Mark Twain

    THAT is what this man did

    January 12, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  12. Jeff

    Looks like Gates couldn't wait to cash in. The clock is running. Tick tock tick tock.

    January 12, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  13. Brian

    Just as the President and the Secretary of state are wrong on some of their foreign policy decisions so too are secretaries of defense. Merely saying that the vice president was wrong on %100 of his decisions doesn't make it the clear and cut truth. I for one am glad we haven't mired ourself in another war or extended the current wars. Whether we kept our troops in those conflicts for another 1 year or another 20, the result will be the same. They will go back to doing business as usual. I admire Gates, but he is just one man with one outlook.

    January 12, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  14. whatever

    Doesn't sound to controversial... just some personal opinions about how things might be done differently. Everybody has an opinion.

    January 12, 2014 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  15. UpsetVoter

    The big problem is partisan politics cherry picking his book. It is not partisan. Partisan politics is what is destroying this country from both sides.

    January 12, 2014 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  16. Jim

    Congratulations on yet another way to keep Americans divided. Well done!

    January 12, 2014 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  17. abnguy

    President Obama must have been very hesitant about a surge in Afghanistan like the one Bush used in Iraq. It is a hard thing to admit you were wrong and the last guy was right on an issue.

    January 12, 2014 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  18. abnguy

    Mo admitting the Vice-President has been right at least 51% of the time is not the ringing endorsement he needs to run again.

    January 12, 2014 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  19. simplyput

    Unfortunately, the days of respecting the man in the highest office in the land until he is out of office are long-gone. The bar of "duty" has been lowered to the outrage page, and service seems to mean very little. It's how you know we are a nation in decline. The lack of a moral compass in our leaders–both parties–has spread to the public blogs and comment sites to embarass us all. Embrace the suck.

    January 12, 2014 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  20. Dave

    If Gates was unhappy with his boos, he should have quit

    January 12, 2014 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  21. nrl

    nothing really new in the book – we all (in the military families) have known all this time that obama and hillary hate the military... both losers could never even visit the troops unless it was a requisite photo op

    January 12, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  22. luvUamerica

    So, the Defense Secretary kept his mouth shut when there was a problem or issues that needed to be addressed. Isn't that his sworn duty and job, to advice the President and his staff. To be the Civilian liason between the Generals and the President? So, what he is telling the country and his President is, he did not advise the President to his fullest capacity. He did not do his job that he swore to do. He did not protect our country, that he swore to protect. In fact, he became a traitor. Did Americans die because he withheld crucial information from the President? Did Americans die because the played politics?

    Robert Gates is a dishonorable, egotistical nincompoop.

    January 12, 2014 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  23. Big Ben

    Gates now has as much credibility as General "I did not have an affair" Betrayus. Good riddance to both.

    January 12, 2014 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  24. sick of republican phonies

    Obama has tried to reach across the aisle to republicons, and kept Gates- A Bush jr. appointee- on; this is the way they show their appreciation. You can't trust a republicon.

    January 12, 2014 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  25. craigorie

    When Obama, Clinton, Biden, Admiral McRaven, Gates and others were together for the raid which killed Osama Bin Laden Admiral McRaven said that the President was, to paraphrase: very Presidential, seemed to have the experience of someone with 35 years in the military and was the smartest person in the room. Oh my, Gates was also in the room.

    January 12, 2014 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
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