Obama defends Biden after scathing criticism from former Defense Secretary

McClatchy Washington BureauJanuary 7, 2014 


Former U.S. defense secretary and CIA director Robert Gates, May 10, 2013


President Obama provided a passionate defense of vice president Joe Biden Tuesday -- after his No. 2 came in for scathing criticism in an upcoming book by former Obama administration Defense Secretary Bob Gates.

In a statement, National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said Obama "disagrees with Secretary Gates' assessment" -- that Biden was "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."

Biden, Hayden said, "from his leadership on the Balkans in the Senate, to his efforts to end the war in Iraq...has been one of the leading statesmen of his time, and has helped advance America’s leadership in the world. President Obama relies on his good counsel every day.”

And on Wednesday, the White House will give news photographers rare access to the two --allowing still photographers to snap Obama and Biden dining together in the president's dining room. The pair often meet for lunch, but press isn't allowed.

The schedule has them down for a day of togetherness: In the morning, Obama and Biden will receive the presidential daily briefing in the Oval Office. Later in the morning, they'll meet with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in the Situation Room. After lunch in the private dining room, they'll meet with leaders of the intelligence community.

They willl also both meet with Secretary of State John Kerry in the Oval Office.

The Republican National Committee was quick to note the pair's day, calling it "pretty subtle, Biden joins Obama all day tomorrow after the White House rushed to defend him against charges in Secretary Gates’ book. Is Thursday Hillary’s day?"

Gates' book isn't officially out until Jan. 14 but is already making waves, criticizing the Obama administration's foreign policy record. Gates wrote that Obama lost faith in the troop increase he ordered in Afghanistan and it was ultimately "all about getting out," of the country, according to the New York Times and Washington Post, which obtained copies of the book.

In an excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal, Gates called Obama's White House "the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost."

Congress fared even worse: "Such difficulties within the executive branch were nothing compared with the pain of dealing with Congress," Gates wrote. "Congress is best viewed from a distance—the farther the better—because up close, it is truly ugly. 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."  

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In the statement, Hayden said Obama "deeply appreciates Bob Gates’ service as Secretary of Defense, and his lifetime of service to our country."

Gates, a holdover from the George W. Bush administration, served under Obama for two years.

Hayden said that "deliberations over our policy on Afghanistan have been widely reported on over the years, and it is well known that the President has been committed to achieving the mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda, while also ensuring that we have a clear plan for winding down the war, which will end this year. As has always been the case, the President welcomes differences of view among his national security team, which broaden his options and enhance our policies."

"The President wishes Secretary Gates well as he recovers from his recent injury, and discusses his book," she said.

Gates, who retired from his post in 2011, was hospitalized briefly after falling at his home and fracturing his vertebrae.

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