Policy & Strategy

Gates ‘disappointed’ by reaction to memoir

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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Monday he’s “disappointed” by the reaction to his upcoming memoir. 

In an interview on NBC News’s “Today” show, host Matt Lauer asked if Gates has been surprised by the backlash to the book since excerpts were released last week. 

“Not really surprised, but in a way disappointed that the book has sort of been hijacked by people along the political spectrum to serve their own purposes, taking quotes out of context … it’s part of the political warfare in Washington that I decry in the book,” he said in the live interview. 

He was seen wearing a neck brace after injuring his first vertebrae in a fall in his home recently.

{mosads}Gates writes in his memoir Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War that President Obama doubted his strategy in Afghanistan. He also slammed Vice President Biden’s foreign policy positions and praised former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The news media, Gates said, lost sight of the fact that he “actually agreed virtually on every decision President Obama made on Afghanistan.” He writes in his book that Obama questioned the war’s surge.

“It was in our private conversations that he would express these reservations about whether it was working. The decisions were right,” Gates said on Monday.

In response, Gates said he spoke to then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Obama himself about “the need to speak out about the importance of the war and why we needed the troops to be there.” 

Asked whether the release of his book undermines the credibility with troops overseas now, Gates said, “No, I don’t.”

He also reveals in the memoir that Clinton conceded to Obama that her opposition to the Iraq War surge was political. Lauer asked Gates if that would hurt her politically should she consider another run for the White House in 2016.

“No, I think there’s a difference when you’re in the Senate and you’re campaigning for office … and when you have the responsibility of office. I never heard her bring domestic politics into the issue.”

Gates also writes in the book about how he was deeply affected by the Americans who died in war. He was asked in an interview broadcast on NPR Monday whether that influenced his decision to retire.

“No, not really. And, you know, the president — there has been a lot in the media and so on that’s — portrays me as very critical of President Obama. But the truth is, we had a very good personal relationship. We discussed our differences openly. He was always civil and kind to me, gave me a lot of trust and confidence,” he said.

Obama’s approach toward the military when he entered the White House, Gates added, was “pitch perfect.” Gates said, however, “what started to get things off track” was military leadership pushing for an increase in troops right after the first inauguration.

Gates said there was a feeling that military officials like then-Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal were “trying publicly to put the president in a position where he had no alternative but to approve what they wanted.” Gates said he was never able to fully persuade Obama that that was not the case.

Gates served as Obama’s Pentagon chief from 2009 until 2011. Gates had also served as Defense secretary to former President George W. Bush.

Since stepping down, Gates has served as chancellor at William and Mary. He was elected to lead the Boy Scouts of America in October as its national president.

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