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Ex-Pentagon Chief Criticizes Obama's Mideast Military Policies

FILE - President Barack Obama (R) and then U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are seen together at the National Defense University in Washington, December 2012.

A former U.S. intelligence and defense chief says President Barack Obama "lost his way" in setting the country's military policies in the Middle East in the past few years.

In a new book published Tuesday, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace, Leon Panetta faults the president as too often relying "on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader."

Panetta led the Central Intelligence Agency and then the Defense Department between 2009 and 2013.

Panetta praised Obama for authorizing the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. But Panetta said the U.S. president made several mistakes in setting policy in Iraq and Syria, which he says contributed to the Islamic State takeover of vast swaths of land in both countries in recent months.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that Obama is continuing to assert his leadership in the Middle East with the U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants.

Panetta's memoir has drawn the ire of the White House, with Vice President Joe Biden saying it is "inappropriate" for former officials to write books about their accounts of Washington policy disputes so soon after leaving their jobs and while presidents whom they served are still in office.

In the book, Panetta faulted Obama for not pushing former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to allow the United States to keep a residual force in the country when the U.S. withdrew its combat troops in 2011 after a nearly nine-year war.

The former official also criticized Obama for rejecting his advice and that of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to train and arm Syrian rebels in 2012 in their fight to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a tactic that Obama only recently adopted.

In addition, Panetta said Obama should have attacked Syria when it crossed his self-described "red line" and used chemical weapons against opposition forces, rather than seeking congressional approval, which never materialized.

In interviews about the book, Panetta said the U.S. leader now has made "the right decisions" on U.S. strategy in the Middle East. But he says the policies should have been carried out two years ago, and that Obama should not have ruled out the use of U.S. ground troops in fighting Islamic State militants.