WASHINGTON : The White House rejected a largely critical assessment of administration policymaking presented in a new memoir by former Defence Secretary Robert Gates, saying disagreements over the course of action in the Afghan war were part of a “robust” internal process.
In his forthcoming memoir, Gates, a Republican, wrote that Obama “eventually lost faith in the troop increase he ordered in Afghanistan.” Those doubts, Gates wrote, were “fed by top White House civilian advisers opposed to the strategy, who continually brought him negative news reports suggesting it was failing.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday that Obama “is committed and has been committed to the mission he has asked our men and women in uniform to perform in Afghanistan.” Carney added that it is “not a revelation” that Obama has been interested in winding down the war.
“It was his stated commitment to the American people.”
When Obama inherited the war, it was “in disarray by the judgment of many,” Carney continued, but Gates and other members of the administration helped create a “policy in Afghanistan that was much more clear in its objectives.”
As for those civilian advisers who opposed the president’s strategy, Carney said Obama “expects to hear competing points of view from every member of his national security team... That’s what he gets, and he’s grateful for it.”
In his book, Gates reportedly called out Biden, charging he has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Carney responded, “As a senator and as a vice president, Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time and he has been an excellent counselor and adviser.” Biden, he continued, has played a “key role in every major national security and foreign policy debate and policy discussion in this administration.”
Still photographers were granted access to Obama’s lunch with Biden on Wednesday, but Carney said it had nothing to do with the Gates memoir - the White House has simply been looking for more opportunities to give the press access to the president. Obama has full confidence in Biden, Carney said, adding, “We don’t need to reinforce that, it’s just a fact.”
Carney clearly anticipated a barrage of questions about the memoir, opening Wednesday’s briefing with, “Read any good books lately?”
Gates has also lobbed harsh criticisms at Congress. In a Wall Street Journal essay adapted from his memoir, Gates wrote, “I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country.”
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, responded Wednesday that Gates is “entitled to his comments under the First Amendment just like anyone else.” Biden “is not a person that this president chose simply to affirm what others are thinking.”
According to reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post, Gates writes in his memoir that Obama “can’t stand” Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
“I wouldn’t agree with that,” Carney said. “I think the issues here are not about personalities, they are about policies,” he told reporters. “And, the decisions the president makes about sending and keeping military forces, American men and women in uniform, in Afghanistan have to do with US national security interests, not those kinds of issues.”
On the issue of trust and the military leadership, he said: “The president, the vice president, everyone in this building who has ever served and worked on these matters has enormous respect for our men and women in uniform and that includes all of the president’s top military advisers.”
Carney said it should come as no surprise that the president’s aim was to exit Afghanistan, something the administration campaigned on and has worked toward from the beginning.
“It is well known that the president has been committed to achieving the mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaida while also ensuring that we have a clear path for winding down the war, which will end this year,” he said.