January 12th, 2014
01:38 PM ET
10 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. mrglobal

    What is there to support about the Afghan and Iraq wars ? It was all about the exit and that is something we all know. Obama was always mindful to show support for the troops but when you have to do troop draw downs and amidst the instabilities and killings by insurgents posing as police or friendly infantry, Obama's priority is not to keep troop morale ass kicking gung-ho testosterone high. In light of this difficult balancing act, Gates tries to put negativity to Obama and Clinton which come on on as disingenuous. What about Bush who made the bad decisions ? Where is Cheney and Rumsfeld in this ? Without being balanced, Gates has lost any credibility.

    January 12, 2014 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  2. jimranes

    The President reached out to Mr. Gates, entrusted him with one of the most important cabinet positions and awarded him a Medal of Freedom. Gates then writes a tell all based on his right wing perspective after he was entrusted with one of the most important posts in the President's cabinet. This just does not fly in government or private circles. If Mr. Gates worked for me in the private sector and resigns and betrays my trust, who would ever trust this untrustworthy jerk? No one. Gates will be just another very minor footnote in history and an untrustworthy one at that.

    January 12, 2014 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  3. Department of UnAudited Defense

    Does Gates mention he did nothing to allow an Audit of the Department of Defense. The roaches of fraud run all around military industrial complex.

    January 12, 2014 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  4. mjs81

    Mr Gates exercised poor judgement in releasing his personal thoughts on a sitting president and appears to be making more of a political statement attempting to discredit Obama and Biden, even Clinton to an extent. Having served in the current presidents administration, he should have exercised more professionalism and restraint.

    Mr Gates should stop and recognize that there are very likely any number of people (including highly competent and respected people) whom worked for him during his tenure and whom could also come forward to question his conviction, authenticity, and motivations about his decisions and/or leadership. The validity of their impressions would be no less nor no more material than those he is now bring forth on his past bosses. Doing so, particularly at this time, simply calls into question his judgement and motivations.

    It's unfortunate, Mr. Gates not only tarnished the reputation of other leaders but, in doing so, he has tarnished his own as well.

    January 12, 2014 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  5. candy

    Gates still thinks that the surges (Bush's and Obama's) made any difference to Iraq's instability? The surges just delays the inevitable – the civil war between the Shiites and Sunnis – unless the USA plans to occupy Iraq forever. Any president with some intelligence would have doubts about such a short-sighted strategy. The surges were the army's ideas, and the army is only good at fighting wars, but not at ending pointless ones.

    Gates just wants to show his GOP buddies that, like them, he could not stomach a Democrat president, especially one who is a minority (and that will include Hillary).

    Obama should never have retained Gates. But on the other hand, that was one of his early tragic mistakes of playing nice with the GOPs.

    January 12, 2014 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  6. teerandaz

    Gates' "tell all" book is more reflective of his own caliber than it is of the stuff he is spilling his guts about. Future presidents will surely take note of the perils of being open minded about deciding to let high officials from the other party continue to serve in their new administration. This guy is worse than Dick Morris of the 90's doing his tell all on Bill Clinton. He makes Morris sound like a sycophant. An ounce of loyalty is clearly too much to ask of a republican. They specialize in biting the very hand that feeds them. I think his book will play right into the hands of democrats, come election time.

    January 12, 2014 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  7. Bob

    Another traitor in high office. When will someone come on the scene to unite the country, instead of dividing further for political gain? Neither the Democrats or the Republicans are patriots.

    January 12, 2014 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  8. Ralph

    I have more respect for Snowden than Gates. Another bitter Republican trying to smear the Democrat's and influence the vote so the Republican's can ruin the economy and country again. If this country is lucky a Republican will not see the inside of the White House for the next 11 years.

    January 12, 2014 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  9. MustafarMandingo

    I will read it once I have the time, but from what they have leaked, it doesn't seem too controversial. That is, he praises Obama while critiquing him. The only person who ought to be upset is Uncle Joe.

    January 12, 2014 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  10. Joe Middle

    It's funny. I had no idea if this guy was a Republican or a Democrat, and now that I know, I still don't care. He pretty much echoes my thoughts, except I didn't like Bush's politics. He was a wonderful human being and he loved our troops and our country, but he led us down the wrong path with Iraq.

    January 12, 2014 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  11. Vincent

    Not sure if any of the information is useful or not. And even if he wasn't 'trying' to be partisan, it still will be cherry picked for that that purpose.
    This just goes to show BOTH parties that when you go into the highest office, you should not trust someone from the other party to be in charge of any important positions in government. Pretty much continues the usual partisan, divisive politics that's causing all the problems.

    January 12, 2014 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    'both losers could never even visit the troops unless it was a requisite photo op'....
    You mean like sending American sons and daughters to die in 2 phony wars and then parking a battleship 10 feet off the Jersey shore with a big banner that said 'Mission Accomplished'...that kind of photo op...or at the world trade center, etc. etc.....sorry I interrupted your fox tv show..

    January 12, 2014 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  13. Lou AZ

    Two wrongs – Nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan – don't make a right. Seems the only guy in the country that wants us out of both places is Pres. Obama.
    Gates book is woulda coulda, shoulda . . .

    January 12, 2014 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  14. VCMD

    Yes, Gates is wrong to publish a book while critical of Obama while he is still President. But it was OK for everyone to publish books when Bush was President!

    January 12, 2014 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  15. marvinhoover

    The problem here is this; Mr Gates says, when asked if he liked his job as Sec. of Defense - who would like it? What's to like in sending kids into harms way (Paraphrased) - but then his alleged slam of Obama was that Obama didn't seem passionate about the Afghanistan war - sending mixed signals to the troops - Does he NOT see the Irony here? Being passionate about something you aren't passionate about is one thing, but to be that way yourself, and then point fingers at someone else, doing what you yourself is doing.......HMMMMMMMMMM. And the one moaning about the CIC's lack of passion in mission comes from his desire to get out - whereas Gates is part of the grow the war machine....not liking to send troops into dangerous situations.....? I don't think he hurt Obama at all. I question HIM though.

    January 12, 2014 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  16. marvinhoover

    Mr. Gates says he disliked his job as Sec. OF Defense, because it meant he was sending kids into harms way. IS this the lack of passion he speaks of Obama not having? Or are the rules different for him?

    January 12, 2014 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  17. jimmy

    Robert Gates knows what he is. And so does everyone else. WORTHLESS. LIKE 6 TITS ON A HOG. WORTHLESS.

    January 12, 2014 11:25 pm at 11:25 pm |
  18. mike

    Liberals take on free speech is that it is only free speech if they agree with it and it fits the right agenda.

    January 12, 2014 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  19. littlepeaks

    Those who criticize Gates, I don't think he gave up his First Amendment rights along the line.

    January 12, 2014 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
  20. stop-the-bs

    I have no problem with him sharing his opinions and views. However, how does a Former Cabinet member discuss such things while his former boss is still in Office? It's disrespectful & unpatriotic on many levels.

    January 12, 2014 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  21. J.V.Hodgson

    Tell you what the reason he has done this is money. His book will be a number 1 best seller fortunately he then undermines most of what Republicans can do because BHO has no office to run for Biden having tried 3 times and lost wont try in 2016 so no damage there and both of then unaffected by 2014 electoral results.
    Hilary, he says she might make a good president.... and the balance of his comments are on the positive rather than negative side. trouble he is going to be misrepresent by all these Super PACS in ads about Hilary. The smoking gun of Benghazi is running out of smoke already. IRS/ Fast and furious ,and the others nothing to do with her.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    January 13, 2014 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  22. Pj

    Gates is obviously conflicted about how the administration conducts business and how congress conducts business as well. I think he did the right thing by publishing his book while the administration is still in office as it will give voters an additional avenue of insight as to how things are done. Having served in Afghanistan as part of the surge, we could feel the president's heart was not in it. It was not his war and he didn't want to be soiled by it. Playing politics back home while Marines and soldiers are dying in some pretty horrible places is completely irresponsible by both parties. I have zero respect for any of the sitting politicians in congress now that our disability pensions will be cut. I urge everyone to vote for anyone running who is not an incumbent candidate. I would also urge the leadership of both parties to stop playing chicken with that gas tank on every single issue and just do their job which is what is best for our nation. Tell the nut jobs on both sides to shut up and work for the good of the nation. Term limits must be introduced for congress. Six years for congressmen and eight years for senators. No pension until they are 62 years-old.

    January 13, 2014 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  23. Bob Dealin'

    Wouldn't have all this flak if he had co-written with Brother Bill

    January 13, 2014 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  24. Raj

    Gates is a traitor for criticizing a sitting president. But then what you expect from a GOPer.... war mongering of course

    January 13, 2014 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  25. andrew

    You got it all figured out, Gates? Leastwise the money part from castrating a sitting president, eh? You jerk, he should have fired you when he came in, rather than try to be friends and build trust.
    Another back stabbing republican out for Rush Limbaugh type hateful, shameful money, who couldn't wait to puke on the President of the United States for stacks of republican blood money.
    Sickening and unforgivable – what a sorry, sorry American.

    January 13, 2014 12:32 am at 12:32 am |
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