WHITE HOUSE — The White House on Wednesday strongly defended President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in response to criticisms by former defense secretary Robert Gates, in a memoir being published next week.
The White House continued aggressive but seemingly confident damage control in response to published excerpts of the Gates memoir, and ongoing reaction to it.
Video and still photographers were permitted brief access as Obama and Biden had lunch at the White House. No reporters were allowed in, so no questions were asked.
Biden, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, gets harsh criticism from Gates, who describes him as being "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."
Press secretary Jay Carney said the rare "photo opportunity" of Obama and Biden at lunch was not deliberate in reaction to the Gates memoir, but a response to media demands for more access.
Carney said the president has full confidence in Biden's foreign policy record, including his role in administration debates on Iraq and Afghanistan policy.
"The president has said many times that he greatly appreciates the advice and counsel the vice president gives him on matters domestic and foreign, and that is absolutely the case," said Carney.
The Gates memoir, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, contains scathing observations about President Obama, particularly on Afghanistan strategy.
Gates writes that Obama did not "believe in his own strategy" and that there was "suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials" and by the president and vice president.
Carney said it is well known Obama is committed to achieving the mission in Afghanistan, including initially ramping up the U.S. troop presence and then winding it down.
"The president believes thoroughly in the mission. He knows it is difficult, but he knows that our men and women in uniform as well as those civilians in Afghanistan and others who are working on this issue have admirably and heroically fulfilled that mission and they do so today," he said.
Asked about the message the Gates memoir sends to U.S. troops, Carney said it was well known the president set out to change an Afghanistan policy in disarray and provide a clear mission.
In a June 2011 ceremony at the Pentagon, Obama praised Gates for his service to eight presidents as he presented him with the Medal of Freedom.
"A humble American patriot. A man of common sense and decency. Quite simply, one of our nation's finest public servants," Obama said.
Senator John McCain, Obama's Republican opponent in the 2008 presidential election, said the Gates memoir confirmed suspicions he had about the administration's Afghanistan strategy.
The White House is seeking to highlight positive comments Gates had about Obama, including the former defense chief's description of Obama as being right on the decisions he took on Afghanistan.
Gates called Obama's decision to approve the Special Forces raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden "one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed in the White House."
Obama's former chief of staff, William Daley, called Gates's criticisms "a disservice," saying Obama supported U.S. troops and was committed to destroying al-Qaida.
Former key adviser David Axelrod said Obama and Gates had a good working relationship and that Obama was always personally committed to his Afghanistan strategy.