President Obama’s former defense secretary says in a new book that both the president and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged in front of him that they opposed the Iraq surge because of presidential politics.
Robert Gates, who led the Pentagon for President George W. Bush and then stayed on for the first 2½ years of Mr. Obama’s tenure, also said Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was regularly wrong about his views on international affairs.
In excerpts posted on The Wall Street Journal’s website, Mr. Gates bristled at much of Washington, including having to submit to pointed questioning from members of Congress, managing the internal turf conflicts at the Pentagon and trying to avoid the White House’s desire to micromanage everything.
And the former secretary said that Mr. Obama himself seemed to dislike having to deal with uniformed officers.
“Bush was willing to disagree with his senior military advisers, but he never (to my knowledge) questioned their motives or mistrusted them personally. Obama was respectful of senior officers and always heard them out, but he often disagreed with them and was deeply suspicious of their actions and recommendations,” Mr. Gates said.
“Bush seemed to enjoy the company of the senior military; I think Obama considered time spent with generals and admirals an obligation,” the former secretary said.
The new book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” recounts Mrs. Clinton telling Mr. Obama her opposition to Mr. Bush’s 2007 troop surge in Iraq was a political decision, made because she was trying to match Mr. Obama’s anti-war sentiment in their primary campaign.
“The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying,” Mr. Gates wrote, according to excerpts published in The Washington Post’s review of the book.
But Mr. Gates also had kind words for Mrs. Clinton, calling her “smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world.”
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden disputed Mr. Gates’ conclusions, though she said Mr. Obama still appreciated his service. Ms. Hayden took particular exception to the former secretary’s criticism of Mr. Biden, whom he described as almost uniformly wrong on big foreign policy questions.
“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. President Obama relies on his good counsel every day,” said Ms. Hayden.
Both Mr. Biden and Mrs. Clinton are seen as potential successors when Mr. Obama’s second term ends, and Mr. Gates’ book is likely to cause problems for both of them.
Mr. Biden’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Ready for Hillary, a grass-roots organization established to lay the groundwork for Mrs. Clinton’s expected presidential run in 2016.
Mr. Obama will also likely have to answer questions about Mr. Gates’ evaluation of his Afghanistan policy.
His former defense chief said the president seemed intent on getting out of Afghanistan, regardless of conditions on the ground or the advice of commanders.
Ms. Hayden said the president’s deliberations 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.”