January 12th, 2014
01:38 PM ET
8 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. don in albuquerque

    No fool like an old fool. How much did he get paid for his little "expose"? Very sadly in America, truth is only proven by how many dollars are behind it. A shame he chose to disgrace himself. "Duty"? Yeah, right.

    January 12, 2014 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  2. Jim Bob

    This is one of the strangest situations in the modern military. Typically, leaders tend to keep their opinions to themselves at this level. They certainly would chop of the heads of any military member who would deign to do anything similar. Remember General McCrystal losing his job and being forced into retirement over comments that were nothing even close to the indictments levelled by Secretary Gates. While I applaud the intestinal fortitude of Mr. Gates, this is way out of line in the context of acceptable political points of view towards the President. I wouldn't be surprised if the RNC put him up to it. Follow the money.

    January 12, 2014 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  3. BeverlyNC

    Gates is a bitter man who when in a position to speak up and do something about what he did not like but did nothing. Now he is releasing a book before an election because no one would otherwise buy it or read it. Another unethical Republican only looking out for himself.
    President Obama has been a huge supporter of the troops and nothing shows that more than getting them out of the Bush wars as fast as he can without destabilization of the countries involved. He also respects our troops by refusing to start more wars the Republicans are always ranting for – McCain especially with his former campaign slogan of "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran".
    Does Gates forget Republicans have filibustered every bill to increase veterans aid and healthcare for returning vets? Does Gates know that the fast growing number of poor are our veterans yet it is the Republicans who want to starve the poor and end welfare for the People – all while handing out billions in corporate welfare.
    Gates is no honorable man. I hope his book falls flat. It is about as truthful as his Party.

    January 12, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  4. kate gallagher

    What an odd thing for Gates to say, it is clear that he does not like the president, but no one gets enthused about a war. No it was not President Obama's war and it bush boys (the biggest ever moron.)

    January 12, 2014 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  5. jim

    Wow, he has praise for Bush, who attacked the wrong country! Iran thanks Bush very much!

    January 12, 2014 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  6. lean6

    So...that polarization thing, Mr Gates...you think it has anything to do with not being able to trust anybody and everybody looking to fill chapters of memoirs, or to spin political opinion in their favor before the next guy does? Gates has shown great lack of character on this; it doesn't matter how he tries to sugar coat it.

    January 12, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  7. MJW

    Sometimes you win sometimes you lose. The President in good faith kept Gates on as SecOf Defense to the objection of some advisors, he got burned. It did not matter what the President would have done. A Republican is a Republican and they continue to be dismayed that the country is changing and a minority was elected President. Gates stayed on because he thought a black nan did not have what it takes to lead this country and he probably would be elevated when the President failed. He and they were proven wrong and is still being proven wrong. He had to do something to show Republicans he was not all there with this president. The fact that he wrote this book and released in while the president is still in office says a lot about his integrity. When someone wants to force themselves ahead of you, yield and see what happens. President Obama is confident in himself and the God he serves and prays to, so he does not have to worry what man do.

    January 12, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  8. norman

    Funny other than the problems with Obamacare, and they are recent and just temporary.... Obama has seen like the best president in a long while. The real problem is Americans think they deserve the world without having to work or innovate or manufacture.. all they have to do is complain about their central government! If we took the top 10 internet companies and moved them to China, and they can be easily, the USA would be 2nd world but nobody would blame the corporations, blame the president! :O

    January 12, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  9. whit11

    gates, you just lost your obamacare for speaking againest the king.

    January 12, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  10. rtrauben

    robert gates has means, motive and opportunity. he is a sad example
    of inflated ego, misuse of public resources and misplaced public trust.

    January 12, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  11. J R Brown

    The difference between Bush and Obama is that Bush wanted to win....

    January 12, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  12. ---***---

    Good that he is true to his own self. People are people. Hillary would have to get over a lot of not only misogyny, but the monarchy problem. And health. She would have to take care of her own health first. She has seen a lot of war so not surprising that the war people would like her. Not sure if the actual humans that live here would elect a president that has already had a stroke. I'm sure the "people" as in war profiteer corporations could care less as long as they can get money out of the government and sell weapons. They need to educate the actual humans that live here why we are in perpetual war and why that's ok. And nobody is buying that other countries are paying for it. This country has taken a HUGE dive in the past 50 years. Money siphoned off of here to other countries. This country has really gone to the dogs. Cities dying. States struggling. It's pretty bad. We need a new product line. Not war and not prisons.

    January 12, 2014 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  13. G. T. Simpson

    Those who have followed the exploits of Obama and his administration are not the least bit surprised by the Gates book as Obama from his very beginning has been critical of the military – only interested in what political benefit he could gain! That is pretty much what Obama is all about – politics and an ultra left wing progressive agenda that most American do not want – Obama Care is a perfect example of "Nightmare Legislation" passed by Obama and his minions – literally shoved down the throats of working America so Obama could say he had a legacy – which he does – sadly – it is a bad one!

    January 12, 2014 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  14. pTBarnumboy

    Well DUH!!!!!!!!!! What else would he do??

    January 12, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  15. N.K.David

    It is be wrong to expect a writer to write outside his thought. He is free to express his opinion. Consequently, the book will only help people to understand his views better.

    January 12, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  16. Diana

    If we were truely "at war", Gate's book would be considered treason because it provides "aid and comfort to the enemy." He should have waited until Obama was out of office to publish his book. I guess he is all about the money.

    January 12, 2014 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  17. bluesman1942

    "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."

    Gates doesn't get it. HE is the idiot. Most people in the country were against the "surge" in Afghanistan...just as much as they were against the "war" in Iraq which I'm sure this Bush hawk favored. The fact that Obama's heart wasn't in it goes more to Obama's favor.

    January 12, 2014 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  18. Disgusted

    Why did he accept the Cabinet post if he really despised Obama? To write this book and get rich?

    January 12, 2014 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  19. Pat

    I don't recall ANY of the liberal press having ANY problems when Richard Clarke wrote a scathing book critical of Pres. Bush while he was still a sitting president. But they are very upset at this one. Why is that? Could it be your politics are showing.....again???

    January 12, 2014 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  20. bluesman1942

    Gates is an idiot. Of course Obama wasn't in love with the concept of the surge but he yielded to military pressure and pressure from the war-loving right. But the rest of the country didn't favor it any more than they favored that bogus war in Iraq which I'm sure the chicken-hawk bush lovin' Gates supported. He and his book are rubbish.

    January 12, 2014 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  21. AndyM

    I don't see that Gates said anything wrong at all. He proposed his opinion and nothing more. I would doubt Obama even more if he didn't question his policy in Afghanistan or anywhere else. A good leader constantly re-evaluates his plans/policies. Are they working? Can I improve them? What could be better? Worse? I do not support Obama, however, I don't see this as being an issue at all.

    January 12, 2014 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  22. jennifer in houston

    Just another money grubbing political hack looking for the limelight..

    January 12, 2014 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  23. Down with Nazis

    Is it really a good idea to write about the president you serve (who crossed the aisle to leave you in place) while he is in office? Or is it just childish republicanism?

    January 12, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  24. JohnRJohnson

    I like Gates. He's a pragmatic conservative and not an ideologue. I think his televised statements praising Obama probably stick in the craw of Republicans, but what can they say? Compared to Bush, I think it's safe to conclude that Obama is much more cerebral and less likely to base decisions on the emotion of the moment. That's not necessarily a put down of Bush, who was obviously a more emotional person than Obama. Then again, we've all seen Obama get emotional and cry. He just doesn't allow himself to do when making key policy choices.

    January 12, 2014 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  25. kelly

    So, Mr. Gates riducles Biden and Obama but he praises Bush? Bush created this false war that cost us our troops lives and families who lives were destroyed by this. Plus, all the women and children who died in Iraq because this. And also the trillions we lost. Oh I see Mr. Gates, this all politics. Shame on you.


    January 12, 2014 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
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