January 8th, 2014
06:41 PM ET
9 years 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. dina

    Well, when you appoint someone to help you get out of a war, you trust that the person will be honest with you and discuss the differences up front and not in a politically motivated book. Remember, this man is a republican and it is important to consider what his motives are to publish this book now. He broke a trust. Sad that people can be honest and confidential bu rather use the situations to sell a book.Sad, sad.

    January 8, 2014 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  2. Smitty

    And again our pres gets caught with his pants down. What an embarrassment Obammy has turned out to be.

    January 8, 2014 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  3. maraidia

    To summarize, the Republicans hate the Democrats, and Gates hates Joe Biden. Shocking.

    January 8, 2014 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  4. Kip (Portland)

    Good for former Secretary of Defense Bill Gates. He is a true patriot and we were lucky to have him. VP Biden is an embarrassment in my view and always has been. I have never found his goofy stories and quips amusing. Why would any President choose anyone who has had two brain aneurysms as VP. I do not understand why President Obama did not thank Biden him for his service after four years and take on Hillary Clinton as his VP for the remaining four years. This would have left her even better situated to run in 2016. Regardless I will back her 100 percent if she decides to run for President in 2016. I also agree with Gates on Congress. They have proven to be totally dysfunctional and incompetent for years.

    January 8, 2014 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  5. Blue

    Gates is just another GOP that is rotten to the core.

    January 8, 2014 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  6. Smitty

    How can Obammy comment having no military or business experience ??? The great inept one at his finest, with his britches down !!!

    January 8, 2014 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  7. sftommy

    Bush's war secretary didn't enough war, wonder if the solders have?

    January 8, 2014 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  8. Tampa Tim

    I always thought Gates was better than Rumsfeld, but I guess he is just more of the same.

    January 8, 2014 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |

    Mr. Robert Gates backstabbed Liberia during its civil war when the people were begging the USA to stop the carnage stating that Liberia was no longer strategic.The us navy off shore flew in helicopters,picked up their citizens and left America's stepchild in Africa to kill itself for 15 years.
    He is at it again.This time backstabbing the Obama administration after serving as Defense Minister.That's his character.

    January 8, 2014 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  10. Harold Peters

    Coming from the same Administration that stated, "You can keep your policy. Period." over and over again.
    No integrity... No credibility

    January 8, 2014 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  11. haddock

    Good thing Obama and not Gates was calling the shots.

    January 8, 2014 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  12. Hank

    Well, it won't the last critical review of Obama that will hit the stands that's for sure. I'm sure there will be many, many more that will write their own memoirs about the Obama administration. I'll be curious to hear what others have to say as time goes on. Obama has had incredible turnover in his administration so my thinking is there are many who just plain couldn't stand working with him regardless of who he thinks he is.

    January 8, 2014 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  13. Truth Rules

    "... , hailing the vice president as "one of the leading statesmen of his time." Now that's funny I don't care who you are.

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

    My biggest problem with this is ANYONE that has held a position so high in ANY administration should not release such a detailed accounting before the term of said administration has ended. I look at it like this "as a human being" I trust a person to perform an extremely important high level position in my administration, the LEAST that person could do is not openly criticize me while I am still in office. EVERYONE has an opinion, but that doesn't mean their OPINON is accurate. To me this is just another example of someone (Secretary Gates ) attempting to increase the sales of another "tell all book" regardless of the negative impact irt will have on the nations politics. He should have waited two years..

    January 8, 2014 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  15. mkat2

    What's so surprising about Gates' book? Anyone with an ounce of awareness could see Obama was in, way over his head as POTUS! A 'community organizer' from Chicago's South Side making global, national, economic decisions, relying on the advice of people who are equally as inexperienced as he & the results are surprising??! Pick any name from the 'White Pages' & you'd probably get better results from 'Joe America'!

    January 8, 2014 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  16. Gurgyl

    Nothing wrong with pulling troops from Afghanistan. Obama is absolutely correct. Gates is playing trick to bribe from GOP thugs. I am glad no more war.

    January 8, 2014 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  17. chuckt

    Really nothing new, it would take a fool not to realize our President doesn't want the war in Afghanistan. He said it even before he came into office. Even spoke out against torture, but look at him now. He doesn't believe in torture but sure believes in sending drones to kill them. I guess death is better for them, but at least torture we don't kill the innocent by stander. Even funnier is how he points out what a fool we have for a VP. Biden makes Palin look like a rocket scientist. He has got to be the stupidest VP ever to set foot in the White House.

    January 8, 2014 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  18. Just

    I believe Gates. The O lies too much.

    January 8, 2014 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  19. kamarasune

    Gate's comments explain "much"

    January 8, 2014 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  20. Joe Lucas

    I feel better about Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate after reading what Gates said about her, even though I am generally a conservative.

    January 8, 2014 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  21. Rob

    I certainly agree with his critique of Congress, save for maybe the parochial part.

    January 8, 2014 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  22. cbp

    Mr. Gates had the right to write the book. However, did he ever talk to the President about the ideas in the book? Did he give feedback? Why did he stay on if he was not happy with the President? Like every person in high office we discover that no one is perfect and that goes for Mr. Gates and President Obama. I don;'t believe in broadsiding anyone and I do hop that Mr. Gates did not broadside the President with the words in his book.

    January 8, 2014 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  23. 54StarryNights

    The U.S. had to enter Afghanistan to address the threat from Al Qaeda following the 9/11 attacks. However as history shows, the sad truth is that intervention in Afghanistan by any foreign power is pretty much pointless in the long run because Afghanistan always reverts back to the way it was before the intervention. The only thing that really seems to remain modernized in Afghanistan is the modern weapons they get their hands on. Other than that, most of what the majority of people experience there reverts back to earlier centuries. Sadly, the only modern cultural things that remain or return to impact the majority are negative and/or evil things supported by backward tribal thinking (like the Taliban and Al Qaeda). Within 5 or fewer years of the U.S. pulling out, Afghanistan will be pretty much the same as it was before we intervened just as happened following all the earlier interventions by the European and Eurasian powers who came before us. Still, it's time for us to pull out because staying won't change anything in the long run anyway.

    January 8, 2014 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  24. russ el

    I think many Americans wish that George Bush had been more uncertain of his decision to invade Iraq (well, actually, Cheney's decision...)

    January 8, 2014 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  25. Dan

    Strategy? . . . . poverty is at a 50 year high, and growing. . . . more Part-time than Full-time jobs created. . . . a shrinking Middle Class. . . . 1 of every 6 Americans on Food Stamps, and growing. . . . 127 TRILLION Dollars UNFUNDED LIABILITIES, and growing. . . . 17 TRILLION Dollars National DEBT, and growing. . . . 7 TRILLION Dollars TRADE DEFICIT, and growing. . . . America is mediocre in academic testing compared to over 167 countries. . . . COSTS of Obamacare growing. . . . a 6th year in the White House with a President WITHOUT LEADERSHIP Skills. . . a DYSFUNCTIONAL Congress, both sides. .

    January 8, 2014 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
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