Gates: 'Bitter differences' caused tensions

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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates says behind-the-scenes tensions between the White House, the military and the State Department were the result of “bitter differences” on policy issues.

In an interview published Friday, Gates said the tensions were not merely the manifestation of the president's “team of rivals” Cabinet strategy, something the White House has pointed to since controversial excerpts of Gates’s memoir were released this week.

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“There were some issues like Afghanistan where there were some bitter differences, frankly,” Gates told the Harvard Business Review. “There was a lot of suspicion in the White House of the military.”

But Gates said that aside from those substantive policy differences, the president's Cabinet team — which included Republican and former political rivals — did not “turn out badly.”

“Other than the differences between the White House and the Departments of State and Defense on the Afghan surge in 2009, this team, if you will — Biden, who ran against him, Hillary Clinton, who ran against him, I, who had worked for President Bush — the truth is, on almost every other issue we worked together pretty well,” Gates said.

Gates added that frustration was “not a manifestation of putting together a team of rivals, but rather the substantive differences themselves.”

The comments by Gates seemed like a rebuttal to White House press secretary Jay Carney, who earlier this week had dismissed criticism in the book as the natural byproduct of the Cabinet Obama had assembled.

“When you pick a team of rivals, you do so in part because you expect competing points of view and competing opinions,” Carney said.

The former Defense secretary did offer some praise for Obama, praising his “analytic” and “decisive” leadership style.

“I think one of the things that surprised me ... is that for a guy who had never run anything, to speak of, I found him very decisive,” Gates said.

“He took to being an executive and making tough decisions quite quickly,” he added.