Obama administration comes to Biden's defense after critical Gates memoir
Stephen Collinson, AFP
January 9, 2014, 2:38 pm TWN
Washington - The White House on Wednesday fought back against former Pentagon chief Robert Gates's blunt criticism of President Barack Obama's war leadership and damning of Vice President Joe Biden.
Gates, who served six presidents in senior national security jobs, sent political shockwaves through Washington with his unsparing assessments of the administration in his new book.
Among other accusations, the Republican accused Biden of being wrong about every big foreign policy issue for decades and alleged Obama lost faith in his own troop surge strategy for the Afghan war.
The White House insisted that Obama had expected and welcomed constructive dissent in his foreign policy team after picking a so-called "team of rivals" in his first term cabinet.
And in a rare move, press photographers were invited into Obama's weekly lunch with Biden in the private dining room off the Oval Office, in an apparent show of unity.
The defense of Biden also left the impression that White House aides are not averse to the focus being trained on the vice president, rather than Obama's credentials as commander-in-chief.
"As a senator and as the vice president, Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
"He has been an excellent counselor and adviser to the president for the past five years."
"He's played a key role in every major national security and foreign policy debate and policy discussion in this administration."
Tell-all memoirs by former administration officials looking to gild their retirement and bolster their legacies are nothing new -- and uniformly infuriate presidents, whichever party runs the White House.
But the Gates bombshell was remarkable because of the pedigree of the former defense secretary and CIA chief, his long experience as a confidant of presidents, and his reputation for unruffled integrity.
So it is more difficult for the White House to write off the book -- "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War" -- due to be published on January 14, as typical score settling by a holdover from the George W. Bush administration who was kept on by Obama.
In the most damaging revelations, Gates suggested Obama soured on his own troop surge strategy in Afghanistan and lost confidence in General David Petraeus and other military brass he picked to lead it.
Obama "can't stand (Afghan president Hamid) Karzai, 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 wrote, according to the Washington Post.
Gates also slams White House aides for obsessive attempts to control US national security and foreign policy to the detriment of the State Department and the Pentagon, and excerpts from his book reek of a deep distaste for Washington and its political games.