Bob Gates expands on his Biden criticism

McClatchy Washington BureauJanuary 13, 2014 

Vice President Joe Biden, with then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at right, speaks at the White House on  Wednesday, April 28, 2010.

Vice President Joe Biden, with then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at right, speaks at the White House on Wednesday, April 28, 2010.

OLIVIER DOULIERY — Abaca Press/MCT

The former Defense Secretary is defending his contention in a new memoir that vice president Joe Biden has been wrong about every major foreign policy issue in the past 40 years -- reaching back to the Vietnam War era for evidence.

Gates, who served in both the George W. Bush and Obama administration, said that "particularly on Afghanistan" and whether or not to send more troops into the country, he and Biden "were on opposite sides of the fence."

He first made the charge in his upcoming memoir and told NPR in an interview that aired Monday that Biden was "in there advising the president every day" and accused Biden of "stoking the president's suspicion of the military."

The White House has said Obama has full confidence in Biden's foreign policy chops and that the vice president has served an important role in national security discussions, often playing devil's advocate.

But Gates told NPR's Steve Inskeep that his views on Biden go way back -- to when Biden first became a senator and voted against an aid package for South Vietnam.

"That was part of the deal when we pulled out of South Vietnam to try and help them survive," Gates said of the package. He said that when the Shah fell in Iran in 1979, that Biden called it a step forward for progress toward human rights in Iran.

"He opposed virtually every element of President Reagan's defense buildup," Gates continued. "He voted against the B-1, the B-2, the MX and so on. He voted against the first Gulf War. So on a number of these major issues, I just — I frankly, over a long period of time felt that he had been on the wrong — he'd been — I think he had been wrong."

Biden and Gates did find themselves in agreement at times. Foreign Policy magazine in 2012 noted that among other issues, Biden had opposed intervention in Libya – as did Gates, then the defense secretary.

Max Fisher, a foreign policy blogger for the Washington Post writes that Gates wasn't infallible" "I can tell you how he performed on the single most important (issue) he ever confronted," Fisher writes of Gates. "Ending the Cold War. He was, quite simply, dead wrong."

He adds that Gates "maintained for years that (Mikhail) Gorbachev was no reformer, that he was not to be trusted and that Reagan would be walking into a Soviet ploy."

Despite the back and forth, a new poll finds little interest in Gates' book, with just 11 percent of those surveyed saying they followed news about Gates’ book very closely.

The national survey by the Pew Research Center found that the identical percentage -- 11 percent -- paid very close attention to the fighting in and around the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

Gates also said President Barack Obama expressed doubts about the mission in Afghanistan, but dodged a question from reporters on Monday on whether he was "irked" that the book had come out while troops were still in the country.

Obama noted "war is never easy" and that one was "constantly asking" how the strategy could be improved.

"What's important is that we got the policy right, but this is hard, and it always has been," Obama told reporters. "Whenever you've got men and women that you're sending into harm's way, after having already made enormous investments of blood and treasure in another country, then part of your job as commander in chief is to sweat the details on it." Some lawmakers have criticized Gates for publishing the book while Obama is still in office, but Obama declined: "During his tenure here, Secretary Gates was an outstanding secretary of defense, a good friend of mine, and I'll always be grateful for his service," he said.

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