WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama lacked belief in his administration’s policy toward the war in Afghanistan and was skeptical it would even succeed, his former defense secretary, Robert Gates, writes in a memoir to be published next week.
Gates, who served as Pentagon chief from 2006 to 2011 under Obama and his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, is critical of Obama’s leadership on several defense-related issues, especially Afghanistan, according to a review of “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” in the Washington Post on Tuesday.
According to the Post, Gates wrote that he concluded by early 2010 that Obama, who had ordered his own troop “surge” in Afghanistan like Bush’s in the Iraq war, “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
Gates adds that Obama was “skeptical if not outright convinced it (the administration strategy) would fail,” according to the Post.
“I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” Gates writes.
Reacting to the comments reported in Gates’ book, the White House National Security Council said, “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.”
Obama “deeply appreciates” Gates’ service as defense secretary, NSC spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement, and “welcomes differences of view among his national security team, which broaden his options and enhance our policies.”
After Obama was elected in 2008 to succeed Bush, Gates agreed to the new president’s request that he remain as defense secretary, becoming the first Pentagon chief to serve presidents of different parties.
Gates describes Obama as “a man of personal integrity” and says later in his memoir that “Obama was right” in his decisions regarding Afghanistan.
But Obama was uncomfortable with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan he inherited from the Bush administration and distrustful of the military that was providing him options, Gates writes.
According to the Post’s account of the book, the different world views of Obama and Gates “produced a rift, that at least for Gates, became personally wounding and impossible to repair.”
The Post said Gates acknowledges in his book that he did not confront Obama over the president’s determination that the White House control all aspects of national security policy.
“His White House was by far the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost,” Gates writes.
‘POISONING THE WELL’
His book also criticizes top Obama aides, including Vice President Joe Biden, who he says was “poisoning the well” against the U.S. military leadership.
The former defense secretary, who also headed the CIA under former President George H.W. Bush, calls Biden a “man of integrity,” according to the New York Times’ account of the book, but “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
The NSC’s Hayden said Obama disagreed with that assessment and that “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.”
The Post said Gates writes that confidence and trust were lacking in his dealings with Obama and his team.
Describing “a couple of important White House breaches of faith,” Gates said Obama informed him on one day’s notice he would announce the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that barred gays from serving openly in the military.
Gates supported repeal but writes he was “blindsided” by the move, which had been under discussion for months.
He writes that he was also “extremely angry” with Obama in a debate over defense spending. “I felt he had breached faith with me … on the budget numbers.”
“Why did I feel I was constantly at war with everybody, as I have detailed in these pages?” he asks in the memoir, which also criticizes Congress. “Why was I so often angry? Why did I so dislike being back in government and in Washington?”
“The broad dysfunction in Washington wore me down, especially as I tried to maintain a public posture of nonpartisan calm, reason and conciliation,” Gates writes.
“I did not enjoy being secretary of defense,” Gates notes in his memoir, emailing a friend, according to the Post, that “people have no idea how much I detest this job.”
(Writing by Peter Cooney, additional reporting by Jeff Mason; editing by Jim Loney, Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)