WASHINGTON — A new book by former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates harshly criticizes President Obama’s Afghanistan war policy, saying the president “eventually lost faith in the troop increase he ordered,” and that Obama was “skeptical, if not outright convinced it would fail."
Excerpts of the book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War, were published late Tuesday in the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Gates, a Republican, served as defense secretary in both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, from 2006 to 2011. After a request from Obama that he stay on the job, he agreed to do so. But he says he soon came into conflict with the president, the vice president and the White House national security staff over Afghanistan policy. Gates writes that he never “doubted Obama's support for the troops, only his support for their mission.”
After months of debate early in his administration, Obama agreed to deploy an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, in a bid to stabilize the country so that a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops might begin in 2011.
In an excerpt published in the New York Times, Gates writes that Obama questioned the abilities of his commander on the ground in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, and expressed doubts about whether he could work with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
“As I sat there, I thought the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand 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 is quoted as saying.
But Gates says later in his book that "Obama was right" in his decisions about Afghanistan.
Gates harshly criticizes Vice President Joe Biden, calling him “a man of integrity” but saying he has been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
The former defense secretary also says former secretary of state Hillary Clinton told Obama that her opposition to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq was based on political considerations ahead of the Iowa Democratic party primary that Obama won. Gates writes that Obama “conceded” that political opposition to the troop surge in 2007 was political. And Gates said he was “surprised and dismayed” by the comments from both Clinton and Obama.
Gates writes that he was “extremely angry” about defense budget cuts proposed by the White House, and says he was “blindsided” after the White House only gave him a day’s notice that it would repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy that barred homosexuals from openly serving in the military.
A statement from the White House late Thursday thanked Gates for a “lifetime of service to our country,” and said Afghanistan policy deliberations have been widely reported over the years. The statement said the president has been “committed to achieving the mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaida, while also ensuring we have a clear path for winding down the war, which will end this year.”
The statement, issued by National Security Council Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, also said the president disagrees with Gates’ assessment of Vice President Biden, saying that “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.”
While he offers harsh criticism of the president, vice president and White House staff, Gates describes Obama as a “man of personal integrity,” and speaks of Obama’s approval of the commando raid that killed Osama Bin Laden as “one of the most courageous decisions I have ever witnessed in the White House.”