WASHINGTON – Rushing to curb political fallout, the White House pushed back Wednesday against harsh criticism in a new book by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates that questions President Barack Obama’s war leadership and rips into Vice President Joe Biden.
The tell-all memoir from Gates has created a splash in Washington, casting a negative light on Obama’s national security operations by detailing a high level of discord among the small team that made key decisions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For two key participants – Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – the accusations could color how the two potential 2016 presidential candidates are viewed by voters.
Initially caught off guard by the book’s accusations, Obama’s aides walked a fine line between publicly rebuking his former defense chief and allowing Gates’ claims to go unchallenged. Still, the White House hurried to Biden’s defense and said the president disagrees with Gates’ characterization.
White House spokesman Jay Carney disputed several of Gates’ points individually but said Obama appreciated Gates’ service. He said those who have the privilege to serve at high levels make their own decisions about whether and when to divulge details of private conversations after they leave government.
“I’ll leave it to other folks to decide,” Carney said.
In the book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War,” Gates accuses Obama of having little resolve for his own strategy in Afghanistan and of presiding over a national security team in which military leaders were treated with suspicion and career staffers brushed aside as decisions were centralized among a small cadre of White House advisers.
But Gates reserves his most sweeping indictment for Biden. Despite praising Biden’s integrity and personal sense of loyalty, Gates asserts that the vice president “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
The White House moved quickly to dispel that notion, issuing a statement calling Biden a “leading statesmen of his time” and echoing the sentiment before television cameras.
“I don’t think anybody who has covered us or knows the president and the vice president, knows how this White House functions, has any doubt about the president’s faith in Vice President Biden as an adviser and counselor,” Carney said.
In a rare departure from its usual policy, the White House allowed news photographers in Wednesday to Obama’s weekly luncheon with Biden in the private dining room just off the Oval Office, where Biden spoke animatedly to Obama as the two sat across each other at a wood table.
Biden’s central role in decision-making also was on display in Obama’s public schedule for Wednesday, which showed the vice president meeting with the president five times during the day.
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