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White House Pushes Back at Gates’ Book Claim on Biden

Current and former White House officials are defending Vice President Joe Biden against criticism by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who writes in his memoir that Biden was “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

“The president and the rest of us here simply disagree with that assessment,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said today. “He’s played a key role in every national security and policy debate.”

Carney and former advisers to President Barack Obama also disputed Gates’s assertion that Obama had lost confidence in his own strategy for the conflict in Iraq and that White House aides tried to micromanage military affairs.

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“I never heard him express those feelings to the president or to the situations that I was involved in and I think it’s unfortunate,” Bill Daley, Obama’s former chief of staff, said about Gates today on “CBS This Morning.”

Gates, a Republican holdover from President George W. Bush’s administration who was praised by both Republicans and Democrats when he retired in 2011, delivers criticism of both administrations and of members of Congress, who he said often posture for television cameras.

‘Fire-Breathers’

Gates warns that “fire-breathers” in Washington often are “too quick to reach for a gun.”

“For too many people -- including defense ’experts,’ members of Congress, executive branch officials and ordinary citizens -- war has become a kind of videogame or action movie: bloodless, painless and odorless,” Gates wrote. “But my years at the Pentagon left me even more skeptical of systems analysis, computer models, game theories or doctrines that suggest that war is anything other than tragic, inefficient and uncertain.”

While lauding some of the decisions made by Obama, Gates wrote that his national security team “took micromanagement and operational meddling to a new level,” comparing their drive for tight control to former President Richard Nixon.

Obama, he wrote, was “determined from day one to win re-election.”

“Domestic political considerations would therefore be a factor, though I believe never a decisive one, in virtually every major national security problem we tackled,” Gates wrote.

Political Considerations

Gates also wrote that he was in the room during a talk between Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when the both suggested that their opposition to the 2007 surge of troops in Iraq was political.

“Hillary told the president that her opposition to the surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary,” Gates wrote. “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.”

Obama in 2011 began questioning his own strategy for the conflict in Afghanistan, which had been opposed by some of his advisers, Gates wrote. As a candidate, Obama supported the Afghanistan war as an appropriate and deployed an additional troops to the country as president.

“I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” Gates writes.

Biden’s Role

Gates accused Biden of “poisoning the well” between the White House and military leaders and criticized the vice president’s preferred strategy of relying on counterterrorist strikes from afar, writing that “’Whac-A-Mole’ hits on Taliban leaders weren’t a long-term strategy.”

“The president has said many times he greatly appreciates the advice and counsel the vice president gives him,” Carney said.

The White House received its copy of the book last night, Carney said. Today, the White House took the unusual step of inviting photographers from news organizations into part of the weekly private lunch held by Obama and Biden. Carney said it was a coincidence.

Gates also criticized lawmakers in Congress for a “single-minded parochial self-interest of so many members” and “creating a kangaroo-court environment in hearings, especially when television cameras were present.”

Asked about the book, House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters today: “He’s entitled to his comments under the First Amendment just like anyone else.”

Gates’ book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War,” is scheduled for release next week by New York-based Knopf Publishing Group. Excerpts were published earlier by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael C. Bender in Washington at mbender10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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