January 12th, 2014
01:38 PM ET
9 years 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.

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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. ImvotingforHillary

    Gates only released this book to hurt the Democrats. Obama should have dumped him when he first took office instead of letting this hypocrite keep his job. Bush was totally inept at being Commander in Chief. Ask the families of the 4500 killed in Iraq where no WMDs were found. Ask the families of those who died on 9/11 because Bush ignored intel and failed to catch Bin Laden. President Obama has been a great president so far. Sorry Gates, but the only people who will care will be the racists who hate Obama anyway and look for any little thing to jump on him about.

    January 13, 2014 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
  2. Hedgehog

    Gee, another self-serving memoir from a hack politician. A republican serving in a democratic administration – what a shock, when he leaves office his memoir pans the other-party prez as unfit. In his first year in office, Obama asked for a plan for exiting the 2 wars, and was given only "surge" options. And Gates is surprised he doesn't trust the general officers. As for Biden being wrong about everything – remember that this is coming from the man who was sure the Soviet Union would last forever and Gorbachev was "just another communist leader". I think we can all judge for ourselves who's been consistently wrong about major world events. The big mistake Obama made, it appears, was to appoint this republican fool to a position of authority. He should have been cashiered along with the rest of the Bushie failures.

    January 13, 2014 01:26 am at 1:26 am |
  3. Dave

    People accuse Gates of being political for releasing his book while Obama is still president and before Hillary and/or Biden formally declare their 2016 candidacies. Wouldn't he be even more political to wait until 2017? If there are relevant facts and informed opinions, shouldn't they be aired early enough to inform the public and early enough to provide time for them to be, as needed, investigated by non-partisan elements? I haven't heard that Gates has any presidential aspirations himself, so he doesn't have a dog in the fight.

    January 13, 2014 01:54 am at 1:54 am |
  4. Sean

    It is true, unfortunately, the sacrifice made by troops in middle east affairs is not worth it. Obama seems to know that, Bush didn't.

    January 13, 2014 02:12 am at 2:12 am |
  5. TooClose2DC

    So the main critique of this article is that it is of a sitting president? Seems like the 1st amendment takes care of that issue CNN et al.

    January 13, 2014 03:49 am at 3:49 am |
  6. Chuck

    The Bob Woodward of the Obama years

    January 13, 2014 04:16 am at 4:16 am |
  7. Franchesca

    If Gates' main criticism of the President is that he wasn't passionate and didn't seem to believe in the Afghan policy, duh what rational person would. Save for those who continue to make massive sums of money in the business that is war, the majority of us, perhaps the President too, are hopeful for a post war America where we devote our resources to elevating humanity, instead of using the nation's poor and third world people as pawns. Is anyone paying attention to the large number of young service people who are returning as multiple amputees or the high rate of suicide among them? Afghanistan is a losing proposition.

    January 13, 2014 04:17 am at 4:17 am |
  8. Paul

    When Gates accepted to remain in Obama's administration, he knew fully well that the President was an unwilling participant in the wars started by Bush. If he was not in agreement with Obama's desire to get out of the area, why did he accept the position? Second, it was Biden who early in the Iraq war said that the only solution to the slaughter was to organize the country into three areas corresponding to the three ethnic groups and creating a federalized state. It would have shortened the war, saved untold lives but no one listened to him.

    January 13, 2014 05:26 am at 5:26 am |

    He said that Hillary would be a good President tanking his book sales with the Benghazi,Benghazi,Benghazi crowd. Smart guy.

    January 13, 2014 05:36 am at 5:36 am |
  10. TruthVsLibs

    Someone dares to tell the truth about your god Obama!!
    Oh the shame! he must be punished for his blasphemy of not upholding the lies and destruction of god Obama.
    Hurry up CNN! Twist everything around to p the truth-teller and protect your god! heaven knows, you have long forgotten the quality of actual journalism in your endless slobbering and worship of your god.
    I bet you have a golden statue of Obama in your lobby.

    January 13, 2014 06:09 am at 6:09 am |
  11. TruthVsLibs

    Someone dares to tell the truth about your g od Obama!!
    Oh the shame! he must be punished for his blasphemy of not upholding the lies and destruction of g od Obama.
    Hurry up CNN! Twist everything around to punish the truth-teller and protect your g od! Heaven knows, you have long forgotten the quality of actual journalism in your endless slobbering and worship of your g od.
    I bet you have a golden statue of Obama in your lobby.

    January 13, 2014 06:11 am at 6:11 am |
  12. vincent nwosu

    Why do people act as if some people were born different. Like they can never have faults or make wrong judgements. I am a neutral and for Gates as respected as he was to so publicly criticize a sitting president he has just served supposedly honourably shows how little he really is. This is an act of utmost betrayal. Show me a man living or dead without secrets/one error of judgement and I will show you a river that flows uphill.
    It does not matter how you praised the president afterwards criticizing him, its just a camouflage. If you were truthful to yourself and Americans in general you would have resigned at the time you felt the president was running the country the other way. Your duty was to advice the president but you failed miserably. The purpose of your publication had only one aim: You are a REPUBLICAN TO THE CORE AND WANTS A REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT NEXT. YOU ARE A MAN OF DISREPUTE AND ANY CREDIBLE REPUBLICAN SHOULD DISOWN YOU.

    January 13, 2014 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
  13. Marie MD

    abnguy, shrub #43 did absolutely nothing to this country except to bring it to the brink of financial disaster!

    January 13, 2014 06:25 am at 6:25 am |
  14. hkirwin

    Didn't Billery just write a book shortly after leaving the Administration? Double standard or just hypocritical, or both?

    January 13, 2014 06:43 am at 6:43 am |
  15. hkirwin

    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.

    Or do you mean you just can't trust the truth.? Do you believe that everyone is an Obot and followers blindly?

    January 13, 2014 06:45 am at 6:45 am |
  16. hkirwin

    Big Ben

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

    Anyone who questions the King has no credibility huh.......LOL

    January 13, 2014 06:46 am at 6:46 am |
  17. hkirwin


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

    LOL....isn't that what he did Cletus....LOL You really can't make this stuff up. And you wonder why unemployment is so high.

    January 13, 2014 06:48 am at 6:48 am |
  18. hkirwin


    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.

    LOL....then how do you explain Hillary's latest book? Proof once again that you can't fix stupid.

    January 13, 2014 06:50 am at 6:50 am |
  19. Qaisar

    Mr. Gates you are a snake under the sleeves. WOW, shame on you and anyone who is in agreement with you in regards to the book. If you were that unhappy in your Job, you should have simply resigned with all the allegations you have made now. The way I see it; time for you to cash in, the republican and tea party base would buy out this book just because there is negative remarks about Obama and you knew you would sell lots more and the fact that you had served under 5 presidents wasn't enough to make that kind of cash. I pitty you and instead of buying your book I rather my money on the re-election of a democratic president in 2016 so that in future we can keep scum bag rats out of the government.......

    January 13, 2014 06:53 am at 6:53 am |
  20. Jim Bob

    Interesting. He's either a slime ball who is doing it at the urging of the GOP or he is telling it like it is.

    January 13, 2014 07:35 am at 7:35 am |
  21. Michael MN

    @nrl – So in order to love ther military you need to send them into a war to fight , die and be mamed under made up reasons ?

    As a Veteran I always see it is those that will never have to carry a weapon in battle are always quick to go to war – just as long as they will never have to worry about getting killed in it

    January 13, 2014 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  22. quinLee

    jmore of the same to stimulate the dumbed down. Just once would I like to hear something useful that is actually helpful and units the country. The ship is sinking and instead of trying to save it we are all pointing fingers and bickering as we drown.

    January 13, 2014 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
  23. rs

    Whoops! Another GOP faux scandal. I guess they should have read the book instead of cherry picking.

    January 13, 2014 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
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