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. Anonymous

    He's a Republican, what do expect!

    January 12, 2014 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  2. conchytonker

    Obama is a foreign policy light weight, not to leave out.....a domestic policy disaster.

    January 12, 2014 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  3. PaulC

    When you write a "tell all" book you have to spice it as much as possible to get the media buzzing.
    Gates only has his feelings and opinions and very little else so lets leave it on the back shelf of the library.

    January 12, 2014 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  4. Marty

    Has Gates, and others like minded, forgotten that going to war was based on a big lie? The big mushroom cloud lie? None of this should have happened and he should be careful about pointing his finger at anyone.

    January 12, 2014 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  5. tip

    He's selling books. Its about money, publicity and sales. Fox news is all over this guys criticism of the
    President of the United States, but they barely mention the 'traffic study retaliation' scandal in
    New Jersey.

    January 12, 2014 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  6. snowdogg

    "Indeed, Republicans wasted no time pouncing..."

    Because they can't offer anything constructive... the GOP is politically bankrupt.

    January 12, 2014 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  7. brian

    It is perfectly normal for presidents to replace their military commanders, Kennedy rightfully did not listen to
    his hot headed generals when wanted to just nuke everything and he thereby prevented WWII. The thing is that Bush
    started two stupid wars that we are paying trillions for that have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia which was the nation that was the breeding ground for the 911 terrorist. Also he is some neo conservative with a military mindset that thinks everything can be controlled militarily including some kind of miraculous mind control with the fantasy of somehow
    reprogramming the Islamist to somehow love us as their benefactors despite of 1400 of history between them and
    Christians. It is a fools errand and always be a fools errand, this happens always to men and power, there are
    no exceptions except when General Washington refused another term as president and gave our democracy
    its first real test. How often do men in power really take a step back and look at their actions as future historians
    would judge them. Extremely rarely is the answer. He is only thinking of the now and the military interest, presidents have to look and balance all interest such as the enormous drain on the treasury this is and will continue to be for many years to come. Two retired Admirals (I emphasize retired) finally opined that gee whiz this war making bussiness is a threat to the national security of the United states because of the financial drain it is on our federal budget.

    January 12, 2014 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  8. 2020

    Afterall, Gates is Gates, he looks after his own interest.

    Sadly, he didn't look hard into the mirror. Where was Gates when Bush invaded Iraq? was he under some sort of bunker?

    January 12, 2014 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  9. smc

    I can't think of one Republican major foreign policy or national security issue Republicans have gotten right in the last 4 decades except maybe the Gulf War – which wouldn't have been necessary if Reagan hadn't given Iraq WMDs and encouraged their aggression in the region.

    January 12, 2014 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  10. manhandler1

    How do you make troops feel like the sacrifice is worth it, when it's NOT? How do you DO that? If you're honest you can't.
    He says Bush DID that???? He did it only with LIES....TOTAL lies....Telling them lies to try to indicate that it's necessary to give there lives for something that doesn't have the SLIGHTEST thing to do with protecting our freedom. What a crock!

    I'll tell you what Bush did for them....American Deaths....almost 5000...American wounded....32,000. That's supposed to a plus for Bush?? How about between 100 and 200 THOUSAND innocent Iraqi civilians dead? Did Bush convince THEM that what we were invading for was worth it? What a super idiotic thing to say! Used to have some trespect for Gates......No more.

    January 12, 2014 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  11. Mark Dye

    I guess Obama learned his lesson–he reaches across the aisle to attempt bipartisan-ism, and the recipient takes copious notes for a a tell-all book ripping the durn libs a few years later. Poor Gates–the military industrial complex robot just couldn';t fathom why Obama didn't want to continue all his wars into infinity (and spend a healthy chunk of my hard-earned money in the process). Laughable, pathetic, yet totally expected.

    January 12, 2014 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  12. David M

    Apparently for Obama: "you can't handle the truth".

    January 12, 2014 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  13. Petruski

    What's the trouble? Who likes young US boys to go to war? Our president should very well have serious reservations about being involved at that level in Afghanistan. Kudos to Obama!

    January 12, 2014 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  14. Larry L

    The President should have never kept a Republican in a key position.

    Bush continued the hard sales job for Iraq because he started that war on falsified intelligence data. Gates is just another right wing politician working to keep the 1% controlling America.

    January 12, 2014 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  15. I Can't Believe It

    Everyone's talking about what he wrote about Obama. Did he write anything derogatory about Bush? Since he also served in that administration, there must have been some things he didn't agree with. If he didn't do that, then I don't call this book even handed. It's only self serving and one sided. Bush certainly wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed. He had all the men who served under his father running this country into the ground. I like Bush as a man and respect him as the former president, but why didn't Gates write this after serving in the Bush administration? He didn't work with Obama long enough to fairly assess him and that's why I think he should have waited until he was out of office and written about both administrations and leave it to history to decide. Of course Obama has not made all the right decisions, what president has. Who among us have not wondered if we've made right decisions in our lives about issued that affect us. This just makes him sound like a grumpy old man.

    January 12, 2014 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  16. Two Faces

    Gates is talking out of both sides of his mouth...he loves the troops so much he just couldn't wait to tell them that the commander-in-chief doesn't support them. Too bad he didn't tell about the war crimes he committed with the former prez guess he left that chapter out.

    January 12, 2014 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  17. 66rock

    A true soldier would have said nothing to disrespect the Commander in Chief. He doesn't even have to praise him at all but not disrespect him either. Not sure if he is being partisan or to sell books but not correct in his disrespect.

    January 12, 2014 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    Why didn't Gates man-up, make his opinions known, then resign. If he had done those things his book may have been credible. Now it appears to be about the best timing to make the most money.

    January 12, 2014 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  19. gahh

    Gates can't make up his mind, one minute he's criticizing Obama and Hillary, and the next minute he has a glowing report of how great they are. This book is confusing, and I wouldn't pay good money for it. Anybody who goes into business with Condolezza Rice, isn't to smart.

    January 12, 2014 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  20. Keith

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

    Mark Twain

    January 12, 2014 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  21. rl

    tablet, I agree with you completely. It Is really too bad that Gates turned out to be a traitor to his country and his job. But on the other hand did anyone including the President expect him to be anything but a partisan hack. He is from Kansas, one of the most partisan states in the union. They would elect a goat if he/she had a "R" after their name. It really is too bad that a person like Gates who is given the task of being in charge of our military can not rise above the partisan racist republicon that he came from.

    January 12, 2014 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  22. jdun

    Gates was supposed to be secretary of defense, not head Pentagon cheerleader. In my mind Obama has not got our troops out of Afghanistan fast enough. Afghanistan is a waste of American lives and money. That country can't wait to return to the middle ages, no matter what we do. As a Vietnam veteran I think I can speak from experience on useless wars that only the Pentagon and military suppliers favored. Get out on Afghanistan now! Karzai will fall faster than than A-Rod!

    January 12, 2014 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  23. secrtsqurl

    (Gates) is someone who has a tremendous amount of respect and credibility in this town."

    At least he did....... before such an obviously political move. It just goes to show he should not have been trusted. Pathetic.

    January 12, 2014 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  24. Blue Dog

    I don't see any issues with Gates criticism. It's OK for a president to always think of whats ahead and if his policies are going in the right direction than foolishly escalate a conflict on false premise (like what Bush did in Iraq). And he's a republican after all. So, lot of positive remarks with a little negative coming from him should be considered good for a democrat. What should we pay attention to is seething criticism of the congress (read GOP). No positives there at all on his own party. Thats should worry the GOP.

    January 12, 2014 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  25. angryinct

    The Generals who failed to see the obvious parallels to Vietnem don't deserve to be Generals. The Generals who saw the parallels and failed to speak are traitors to America.

    January 12, 2014 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
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