January 7th, 2014
07:23 PM ET
9 years ago

Republicans use Gates’ new book to hammer Clinton, Biden

Updated 10:02 a.m. ET, 1/8/2014

Washington (CNN) – Republicans quickly pounced Tuesday on some controversial details from former Defense Secretary Bob Gates’ new book in which he highlights an admission from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that he found “dismaying” and fiercely lambasts Vice President Joe Biden.

Both are potential 2016 presidential contenders.

Gates, who led the Pentagon under two presidents from 2006 to 2011, also offered scathing critiques of President Barack Obama and Congress in the memoir, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” which was obtained by CNN and is set to hit bookshelves next week.

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Republicans find new ammunition against Clinton

Gates said Clinton told Obama that she opposed the 2007 troop surge in Iraq for political reasons, as she was running against Obama in the Iowa presidential caucuses at the time.

“The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political,” Gates wrote. “To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.”

In early 2007, Washington was split on whether to increase the number of troops in Iraq or to start bringing them home. Clinton was among Senate Democrats, including Biden and Obama, who opposed boosting troop levels.

“I am not in favor of sending more troops to continue doing what our young men and women have been told to do, with the government of Iraq pulling the rug out from under them when they actually go after some of the bad guys. I am not in favor of doing that unless it’s part of a larger plan,” she said in December 2006 on NBC’s “Today.”

“Everyone knows there is no military solution to the difficulties we face in Iraq,” she continued, saying there needed to be a broader plan that “includes resolving some of the political issues.”

According to CNN/ORC International polling in March 2007, 83% of Democrats opposed President George W. Bush’s plan to send about 20,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq.

For Republicans eager to get a head start on defining Clinton in anticipation of her possible 2016 presidential run, Gates’ book became quick fodder for negative attacks, even though Gates also complimented her in his memoir.

America Rising PAC, an independent Republican group, e-mailed reporters Tuesday afternoon, claiming her admission as quoted in Gates’ book “is sure to undermine her attempt to position herself as ‘serious’ on foreign policy issues ahead of a likely 2016 run.”

The Republican National Committee soon followed with its own e-mail containing a satirical question: “We’re hearing Hillary Clinton made a decision based on politics. Which one of her Super PACs will respond?”

“Hillary Clinton has a history of making decisions based on politics instead of principle,” RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in a separate comment. “It will be interesting to see how she addresses this with voters who have a long memory of the Clinton ways.”

Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for another anti-Clinton group, Stop Hillary PAC, argued the book excerpt proved Clinton is “disingenuous and deceitful.”

"She will do anything, including mislead the country, by putting her political ambitions ahead of the safety of Americans at home and abroad,” he said.

A source close to Gates said the former defense secretary is aware that the line about Clinton opposing the surge for political reasons could hurt her, but he was so stunned to hear her administration–and a less blunt admission from Obama–he felt obligated to print it.

The source said Gates actually has a lot of respect for Clinton, and in his book, he otherwise praised Clinton.

Gates wrote: “I found her smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world.”

And at Gates’ farewell ceremony in 2011, he had high praise for Clinton, saying she’s become a cherished colleague and a good friend.

David Brock, founder of Correct The Record, a project that frequently defends Clinton, pointed out Gates’ admiration for Clinton in the book.

“Gates’s trust in her seems to be epitomized by the high praise he reserved for her,” Brock said.

DNC Communications Director Mo Elleithee also weighed in.

"The President, the Vice President, Secretary Clinton all took office on a promise to end the war in Iraq and defeat al Qaeda so that we could end the war in Afghanistan. That’s what they’ve done," he said, adding "that’s what people will remember.”

Biden accused of ‘poisoning the well’

Gates was not as complimentary about the Vice President, however.

While Gates calls Biden “a man of integrity,” he wrote, “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Biden was tapped to be Obama’s running mate in 2008 largely because of his foreign policy experience. Biden was serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time and had been in the Senate for six terms.

One day after Gates book bonanza, a rare peek into Obama-Biden lunch

Gates also expressed contempt for the Vice President and blamed Biden for "poisoning the well" against the military leaders.

Gates named a specific example of what he considered Biden’s poor judgment in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. He said Biden preferred a “strategy of reducing our presence in Afghanistan to rely on counterterrorist strikes from afar.”

Gates wrote such “’Whac-A-Mole’ hits on Taliban leaders weren't a long-term strategy.”

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden defended Biden in response to the book.

“The President disagrees with Secretary Gates’ assessment – from his leadership on the Balkans in the Senate, to his efforts to end the war in Iraq, Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time, and has helped advance America’s leadership in the world. President Obama relies on his good counsel every day,” she said.

Asked about Gates’ opinion of Biden, Sen. John McCain told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, host of The Situation Room, that he has the “greatest affection” for Biden … and he’s one of the finest men that I’ve known.”

“But he has been wrong on a lot of these issues, there’s very little doubt about that, going back to Desert Storm,” the Arizona Republican said.

McCain was pressed on whether it’s fair to say Biden has been wrong on every issue over the past four decades.

“I don’t want to recount them,” McCain said, laughing. “But he has been wrong on a number of occasions, and he was one of the factors in the whole removal of all of our troops from Iraq.”

CNN’s Paul Steinhauser, Dana Bash, Keating Holland and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.

Filed under: Hillary Clinton • Joe Biden • Robert Gates
soundoff (117 Responses)
  1. Alen McCaine

    Thank you Defense Secretary Robert Gates for your service and bright leadership!
    It would be the owner to serve under Your command.
    All proud Americans know, that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and people like him would never allowed to slap to the face of the Great Nation by dictator from kgb or other kind of jerks, who’s killing their own children by poisoned gas substantial and playing peacekeeping role in the World at the same time.

    January 8, 2014 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  2. rs

    Let's see: A Republican, bashing the President because something started under former President Bush didn't turn out the way he liked. That is news.
    This is almost as pathetic as Republicans using the Right leaning Politifacts to verify their claim President Obama lied about Americans' health insurance policies after the insurance companies (something the President had no distinct control over) cancelled their "junk" policies, or moved clients to different policies- something that happens every year during policy rollover time.
    Ah well, such is life for the GOP- fact-free and delusional.

    January 8, 2014 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  3. rs


    So we know Obama is a liar, we know Hillary is a liar and Biden is one french fry short of a Big Mac.
    Thank you Mr Gates for pointing out what America already knows.
    Be sure to list every GOPper you can think of that always tells the truth. It will be a very short list. You are either a child, or incredibly trusting. These are politicians folks, not prophets.

    January 8, 2014 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  4. rs


    why blame Republicans?–Gates was employed by Obama...
    Maybe because he is a Republican, appointed by a Republican, who apparently didn't believe the duly elected President of the United States and Commander in Chief should have his own opinion about a war he didn't start?

    January 8, 2014 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  5. Fair is Fair

    Marie MD

    "The Afghan war is NOT our President's war. That war was started by the shrub #43 to look for and capture or kill bin laden. He couldn't eve get that right!"
    It was started by Al Queda in 9/11. Afghanistan was attacked because they provided safe haven to Al Queda and allowed terrorists to train there. The primary goal of the war was NOT to capture or kill OBL, but rather to eliminate AQ'a ability to continue their practices. On countless occasions, Obama referred to it as "the good war", and also increased troop levels there. Those are facts, Sweetheart. Don't let them get in your way.

    January 8, 2014 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  6. Cedar Rapids

    The Republicans are moaning about politicians making decisions for politcal reasons? Really?
    The party of 'The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.' is moaning about political maneuvering huh?

    January 8, 2014 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  7. Dead bear

    Impressive... And here I thought Republicans only read children's books and the Bible.

    January 8, 2014 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  8. Lynda/Minnesota

    So, who first started circulating the Gates book talking points before it was even released to the public? Good to see the media is on the fast track of discussion what to most people feel is utterly irrelevant in their lives. Most political books are irrelevant.

    Nevertheless this book will become a huge bestseller. Mr. Gates will become extremely wealthy perhaps even receiving a very lucrative job offer for consultation fees, and life will go on for all.

    Personally, I like the man. Although I find it very hard to respect him now that he is pretending after how many years that he doesn't LIKE politics and never did. It was his life after all. His livelihood actually.

    January 8, 2014 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  9. tm1946

    You mean politicians act in their own best interest rather than care about what is good for the US......surprise, surprise.

    How many trees died to provide paper for this bilge.

    January 8, 2014 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  10. georgex9

    I think the president doesn't want to be fighting more wars in the Middle East and that is good. These religious fanatic sects hate each other and putting our troops there is risky.
    I agree that there was pressure from the military/industrial complex with their donations to representatives to keep wars going. Sen. John McCain doesn't miss an opportunity to call for action anywhere.
    Gates complained the President Obama seemed more interested in getting out of the war in Afghanistan than he was in taking the advice of military leaders. For this I applaud the president. He must have been under much pressure to continue the war there.

    January 8, 2014 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  11. jake

    DNC Communications Director Mo Elleithee also weighed in.

    "The President, the Vice President, Secretary Clinton all took office on a promise to end the war in Iraq and defeat al Qaeda so that we could end the war in Afghanistan. That’s what they’ve done," he said, adding "that’s what people will remember.”

    al Qaeda is defeated? I guest people will believe anything if that's what they, "will remember."

    January 8, 2014 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  12. JC

    Hmmmm... putting politics before principle... sort of like letting the government shut down in a political move that failed...

    January 8, 2014 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  13. Lynda/Minnesota

    @ Fair is Fair:

    "It was started by Al Queda in 9/11. Afghanistan was attacked because they provided safe haven to Al Queda and allowed terrorists to train there. The primary goal of the war was NOT to capture or kill OBL, but rather to eliminate AQ'a ability to continue their practices."

    Ah, but I DO remember Bush demanding that Al Queda release bin laden to American authorities and expel Al Queda from Afganistan in the lead up to the war. To suggest otherwise is rather hypocritical. Bin Laden was the bait.

    I also understood that after this war was started, Bush ... well, Bush became bored looking for bin laden after cluster bombing caves became redundant, and instead centered on attacking another country.

    January 8, 2014 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  14. hkirwin

    Dominican mama 4 Obama

    My opinion of Gates aside, after all he served under THIS President and I think he served well, Republicans should flip the script on all of us and they should do so post haste and well before the 2014 elections. Specifically they should start working with THIS President in ways that the entire country will see and notice. That would go a long way in making those who have a propensity towards myopia and amnesia forget their treatment of THIS President in the past 5 plus years. Additionally they should stop predictably backstabbing and slamming folks across the aisle.
    Be bold GOP.
    Make us forget that you've allowed your sense of civic duty to be bought off for the personal and political reasons of those that were elected to represent the very people they have been consistently and increasingly throwing under the bus for decades now: U.S. voters.
    Don't hold your breath. Republican's do not follow their own party blindly much less Obama who they disagree with almost 100%. BTW, I think you got the 2014 elections all wrong. The majority of people in the US do not agree with Obama or his leadership. Take you blinders off and look at reality. Want to do right by America? Then vote for the best candidate regardless or party, race, creed, color, or gender. Open your mind and also your eyes. If not, I'm sure the DR will welcome you home with open arms. think about this for a second, how many people will really miss you. How many jobs have you created since coming here and how have you benefitted America?

    January 8, 2014 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  15. scarf

    The Republicans are being disingenous if they act surprised that military decisions are influenced by politics. This has always and will always be so. If they don't believe it, they should read a good history of the Civil War and learn about some of the military decisions that Lincoln made and how they were influenced by politics.

    January 8, 2014 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  16. Rick

    Certainly not a surprise.

    Anybody with the IQ at least 10 points above a turnip can see how incompetent Obama and Biden is.

    This is not new information.

    January 8, 2014 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  17. JohnRJohnson

    I think the reason there were political concerns about the surge in Afghanistan is that the administration realized that it wouldn't work in the longer term. Obama had campaigned on ending both wars and, while he hoped the surge would bring added stability to Afghanistan, he knew that once we left that country it would relapse - which it's doing right now. America could stay longer and show some short-term stability, but only at the cost of many more American lives. So the long-term prognosis came into consideration, which had to involve the willingness of the American people to support the war. That's what made it political.

    January 8, 2014 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  18. Carl

    And Hillary too – let's not forget that Hillary opposed the surge because she did it for political reasons. She is a hack as is Obama and Billy too. Biden is in a class all by himself.

    January 8, 2014 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  19. JDD

    So, the lead story on this website right now concerns illiteracy of college athletes,

    The second-largest story concerns the idiocy of retired athletes,

    And buried among the third-tier stories is an accusation by a President's former Secretary of Defense that he was in the room when the President and then-Secretary of State – one of whom is an obvious Presidential Candidate – admitted they had made war decisions for purely political reasons.

    January 8, 2014 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  20. AndyF

    This is compelling, no doubt. On one hand, Gates ciriticism of Obama and Biden not trusting their generals, well after what Rumsfeld did in removing generals in the Pentagon who did not agree with their strategy to go into Iraq and replacing them with "Yes men", not trusting these generals was exactly what was needed. I mean the myoptic nature that ultimately led Bush to botch both wars until he could no longer deny he really messed up is historic. Never has a war been so mismanaged, never has the country been so mismanaged during wartime as was under Bush/Cheney. Obama doesn't trust Afghan Prez Karzai, thank you! Obama speaks harshly of Pakistan, the biggest impedement to the war on terror this whole time, but coddled by Bush, thank you! So when Gates mentions Obama had a problem with inhereting a botched war and just wanted to get the heck out, guess what, that is what 80% of Americans saw and wanted. If anything, so far what has been spoken about this memoir points to Obama being the exact leader this country needed after the disaster that will go down in history as the worst and most damaging presidency in any democratic nation, or as I call it, the Dubya 8 year Debacle. So he favors a Decider, I guess my question for Sec Gates is what if the Decider is wrong, time after time after time? And for Dubya to claim God speaks to him (sure it wasn't the years of drug abuse, George?), at what point does working for a madman come into play?

    January 8, 2014 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  21. liberal disease


    January 8, 2014 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  22. America Suckered Again

    “The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political,” Gates writes. “To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.”
    Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, as this again verifies are at their very core political hacks. So while our service men and women are out there putting their lives on the line trying to fight a war, these two are running around the country rallying against providing much needed support purely because of their own greedy political ambitions. Pathetic.

    January 8, 2014 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  23. AndyM

    It's funny that Republicans, who still adamantly pretend that there were WMDs in Iraq, or, if bowing to reality, claim it wasn't a mistake to invade and occupy in the absence of WMD, are so eager to damn someone for "being wrong." They've been wrong on almost every foreign policy issue going back 15 years.

    January 8, 2014 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  24. Susan

    hilary clinton is every bit as disgusting as is bill clinton.

    January 8, 2014 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  25. The Truth Hurts

    I see the spin patrol is out in force today. It will be interesting to see if this has legs.

    January 8, 2014 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
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