Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ new, tell-all memoir is so critical of Vice President Joe Biden’s incompetence on foreign policy, the White House scrambled to issue a statement Tuesday defending Biden.
“I think [Biden] has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” Gates, who was appointed defense secretary under George W. Bush and remained secretary during President Obama’s first two years, wrote in his new book “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” the New York Times reported.
Considering a potential presidential candidate Biden may one day have to debate foreign policy with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who Gates occasionally had “high praise for” and “was a frequent ally on national security issues,” the Times review noted, the White House went into full spin mode Tuesday evening releasing a statement obtained by BuzzFeed.
“The president disagrees with Secretary Gates’ 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,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said. “President Obama relies on his good counsel every day.”
In Bob Woodward’s review of “Duty” for the Washington Post, he noted, “Though the book simmers with disappointment in Obama, it reflects outright contempt for Vice President Biden and many of Obama’s top aides.”
Biden is accused of “poisoning the well” against the military leadership. Thomas Donilon, initially Obama’s deputy national security adviser, and then-Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the White House coordinator for the wars, are described as regularly engaged in “aggressive, suspicious, and sometimes condescending and insulting questioning of our military leaders.”
It got so bad during internal debates over whether to intervene in Libya in 2011 that Gates says he felt compelled to deliver a “rant” because the White House staff was “talking about military options with the president without Defense being involved.”
Gates says his instructions to the Pentagon were: “Don’t give the White House staff and [national security staff] too much information on the military options. They don’t understand it, and ‘experts’ like Samantha Power will decide when we should move militarily.” Power, then on the national security staff and now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been a strong advocate for humanitarian intervention.
Another time, after Donilon and Biden tried to pass orders to Gates, he told the two, “The last time I checked, neither of you are in the chain of command,” and said he expected to get orders directly from Obama.
The nearly 600-page book, scheduled for release on Jan. 14 even though multiple reports said Gates suffered a recent fall that caused a fractured vertebra, also hit Obama and Biden over the administration’s policy in Afghanistan.
“I could not sign onto Vice President Biden’s preferred strategy of reducing our presence in Afghanistan to rely on counterterrorist strikes from afar,” Gates wrote. “‘Whac-A-Mole’ hits on Taliban leaders weren’t a long-term strategy,” Gates wrote, according to The Daily Caller, who explained, “Biden pressed for the near-complete withdrawal of U.S. forces — except for a small ground force and some drones — from Afghanistan.”
While the White House statement didn’t address many of Gates’ criticism, it did defend the administration on Afghanistan.
“Deliberations over our policy on Afghanistan have been widely reported on over the years, and 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,” Hayden said. “As has always been the case, the president welcomes differences of view among his national security team, which broaden his options and enhance our policies.”
“The president deeply appreciates Bob Gates’ service as secretary of defense, and his lifetime of service to our country [and] the president wishes Secretary Gates well as he recovers from his recent injury, and discusses his book.”