In a new memoir, former US secretary of defense Robert Gates asserts that US President Barack Obama grew frustrated with Washington’s policy in Afghanistan, that US Vice President Joe Biden has been wrong on nearly every foreign policy and national security issue, and that members of the US Congress subject administration officials to inquisition-like treatment.
Obama approved the strategy of putting 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan and placing US General David Petraeus in charge, even though some top advisers opposed the so-called surge that he announced in December 2009.
“I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” Gates writes in the book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, which is set to be released next week by publishing house Knopf.
Recalling a meeting in the White House Situation Room in March 2011, Gates wrote: “As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
Gates also writes that Biden has been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” although he also says the vice president is “a man of integrity” and applies the same assessment to Obama, even though he is critical at times of the president’s leadership.
In response to reports of Gates’ disdain for Biden, the White House National Security Council issued a statement on Tuesday asserting that Obama relies on the vice president’s “good counsel” every day and considers him “one of the leading statesmen of his time.”
Meanwhile, the White House said that Obama’s weekly private luncheon with Biden would be open briefly to photographers yesterday, a highly unusual invitation for the press and another sign that the US leader was not putting any distance between himself and Biden as Gates’ scathing critique drew attention.
A Republican, Gates served as defense secretary for four-and-a-half years during the last years of former US president George W. Bush’s administration and the first of Obama’s.
According to reports published about the book on Tuesday in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, during his tenure as Pentagon chief, Gates often found himself tempted to leave the post because of the adversarial treatment he received from members of Congress.
In the memoir, he said that, in private, lawmakers 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,” according to an excerpt of the book printed in the Journal.
The Times reported that the former defense secretary criticizes what he calls the “controlling nature” of the Obama White House and writes that the president’s national security team “took micromanagement and operational meddling to a new level.”
The book also criticizes the Bush administration, with Gates holding it responsible for what he considers the misguided policies that squandered early victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Times.