Gates Faults Obama Over Afghanistan

1/8/14
 
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from The Wall Street Journal,
1/8/14:

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates compiled a pointed critique of President Barack Obama’s oversight of the Afghanistan war in a new memoir.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates compiled a pointed critique of President Barack Obama’s oversight of the Afghanistan war in a new memoir that exposes strains within the administration over a vital period for U.S. military strategy.

Mr. Gates writes that the president lost faith in the very war strategy he approved, wanted most to find a way out of combat, soured on his handpicked commander and tried to micromanage Pentagon policy, with White House aides facing off against four-star generals.

He describes a White House meeting in March 2011 where Mr. Obama expressed doubts about Gen. David H. Petraeus, the man he had chosen to lead the war effort, as well as Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,” Mr. Gates writes. “For him, it’s all about getting out.”

But Mr. Obama is far from the only source of annoyance to Mr. Gates, … whose tough appraisals are all the more surprising because of his stature as a civil and nonpartisan official.

His views of Mr. Obama are sure to draw the broadest national and international attention, particularly coming from the highest-ranking cabinet member yet to write a book about his tenure.

The White House responded to the memoir by praising Mr. Gates, wishing him a full recovery from a fractured vertebrae suffered in a Jan. 1 fall, and disagreeing with the book’s theses.

Mr. Gates’s insider account could reverberate in the 2016 presidential contest. He offers sometimes unflattering assessments of at least two potential candidates: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden.

Of the two, Mr. Gates seems to have more regard for Mrs. Clinton. “I found 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,” he writes.

At the same time, he recounts a conversation between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama concerning the Bush administration’s 2007 attempt to change the tempo of the Iraq war through a surge of U.S. troops.

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

He said Mr. Biden was suspicious of military leadership. “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue of the past four decades,” Mr. Gates writes.

He added: “The controlling nature of the Obama White House, and its determination to take credit for every good thing that happened while giving none to the career folks in the trenches who had actually done the work, offended Secretary Clinton as much as it did me.”

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