Robert Gates defends Barack Obama's war record ahead of book launch

Ex-Pentagon chief says his memoir is being distorted by president's critics

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 11:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 11:05pm

Former US defence secretary Robert Gates has accused opponents of President Barack Obama of misrepresenting and "hijacking" his new memoir to score political points.

Gates' book, which he said on Monday was even-handed, has been widely portrayed as an attack on Obama's war leadership, but the author himself said he had in fact agreed with the major decisions the US president made on Afghanistan.

He told NBC's Today show he was "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".

I actually agreed with virtually every decision President Obama made

In his first comments on Gates' memoir, Obama insisted on Monday that he had faith in the Afghan war mission.

Gates' book said the president lacked passion for military action and had soured on his own troop surge.

Obama said he had a duty to constantly question US military tactics and "sweat the details" when sending young men and women to war. But the president declined to say whether he had been irked by the publication of the book while he was still in office and American forces remained on the battlefield.

Gates sparked a Washington firestorm with Duty, which was to be published yesterday. It includes the claim that Obama became disillusioned by early 2011 with the troop surge strategy launched in 2009, and lost confidence in his commanders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

But Gates, who served as defence secretary between 2006 and 2011, insisted his book was not an attack on Obama.

"I think the book is very even- handed. I don't vilify anybody.

"I make it clear, I have a lot of respect for both president [George W.] Bush and President Obama," said Gates, who was Pentagon chief under both.

He said that "what has been lost in the news media is that I actually agreed with virtually every decision President Obama made" on how to handle the US war in Afghanistan.

But "some people who have a narrative on Obama and the war got out there early with their take on ... what I've written", he told National Public Radio (NPR).

The former CIA director made a distinction between Obama and the rest of the White House. While his criticism of Obama is coupled with praise and respect, Gates makes no apologies for his blunt criticism of Vice-President Joe Biden and of the White House staff.

"Well, I had a lot of battles with those folks," he told NPR, referring to members of Obama's National Security Council staff.

Having worked on the council under four previous presidents, Gates said the meddling behaviour of the young staff members, including making calls to four-star generals, would have been "a firing offence" in previous administrations.

Gates also made no effort to back away from his harsh words for the vice-president, whom he wrote was wrong about every major foreign policy issue over the past four decades.

Obama said that he "continued to have faith" in the US mission in Afghanistan.

"Most importantly, I've had unwavering confidence in our troops and their performance in some of the most difficult situations imaginable. And that job is not yet done."