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White House pushes back against former SECDEF's claims

Jan. 8, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Barack Obama, Robert Gates, Leon Panetta
In this April 28, 2011, file photo, President Barack Obama stands in the East Room of the White House in Washington with Vice President Joe Biden and outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The White House is bristling over former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' new memoir accusing President Barack Obama of showing too little enthusiasm for the U.S. war mission in Afghanistan and sharply criticizing Vice President Joe Biden's foreign policy instincts. (Charles Dharapak / AP)
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■ Gates said that in private, members of Congress could be reasonable. “But when they went into an open hearing, and the little red light went on atop a television camera, it had the effect of a full moon on a werewolf.”
■ Gates recalls Obama and his secretary of state at the time, Hillary Rodham Clinton, discussing their opposition to Bush’s 2007 surge of troops in Iraq. “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. … 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.”
■ Gates at times criticizes the Bush administration as well as its successor. He holds the Bush administration, in which he also served as defense secretary, responsible for what he considered misguided policy that squandered the early victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Times.
■ In praise of Obama, Gates calls the president’s decision to order Navy SEALs to raid a house in Pakistan believed to be the hiding place of Osama bin Laden “one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed in the White House.” — AP

WASHINGTON — The White House disputes claims by former Defense secretary Robert Gates that President Obama has lost faith in his Afghanistan policy.

"It is well known that the president has been committed to achieving the mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaeda, while also ensuring that we have a clear plan for winding down the war, which will end this year," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement Tuesday.

Hayden said the president "deeply appreciates" Gates' service in the Pentagon and "welcomes differences of view among his national security team, which broaden his options and enhance our policies."

In a memoir to be released next week, Gates wrote that Obama — who sent additional troops to Afghanistan during his first term — began to have doubts about the policy, spurred in part by negative feedback from civilian advisers in the White House.

The book – Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War – is set to come out Tuesday next week.

According to reports by The New York Times, Washington Post and others who obtained early copies of the book, Gates has critical things to say about Vice President Biden, Obama's national security staff, members of Congress, former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President George W. Bush, who first appointed Gates as Defense secretary in 2006. After staying on at Obama's request, Gates retired in 2011.

His book also contains praise for all of these officials, as well as some self-criticism.

In its statement, the Obama administration defended Biden, saying Obama disagreed with his former Defense secretary's critical 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," Hayden said.

The insider memoir is a staple of American politics. Many of Obama's predecessors have had to deal with critical books from ex-aides: President George W. Bush from former spokesman Scott McClellan; President Bill Clinton by ex-aide George Stephanopoulos; and President Ronald Reagan from ex-spokesman Larry Speakes and former chief of staff Donald Regan.

Gates plans to conduct a book tour in the coming weeks, despite a recent accident that left him in a neck brace.

Hayden said, "The president wishes Secretary Gates well as he recovers from his recent injury and discusses his book."

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