Lawmakers question timing of Robert Gates' memoir

The book entitled: "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War," by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is seen in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. The White House is bristling over former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' new memoir accusing President Barack Obama of showing too little enthusiasm for the U.S. war mission in Afghanistan and sharply criticizing Vice President Joe Biden's foreign policy instincts. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) AP

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle questioned the decision by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates to publish a behind-the-scenes memoir that is highly critical of the Obama administration, saying it could hamper the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy.

Gates’ memoir, published last week, calls President Obama’s team “by far the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost," and took particular aim at Vice President Joe Biden at being well-intentioned but frequently wrong on foreign policy issues. The White House has defended Biden.

Even Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is himself one of Mr. Obama’s many critics, said the timing of the book could hurt the country.

 

 “My preference would be that people would refrain from writing these sorts of things until the president is out of office because I think it undermines the ability to conduct foreign policy,” Rubio said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

But because the book is out there already, Rubio went ahead and questioned both the president and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he could face in 2016 if either decides to run for president.

“I don't think we can ignore what's in that book and I think, for many of us, it confirms our worst fears,” Rubio said. “This is an administration full of people that either have the wrong convictions, or, in the case of former Secretary Clinton, lacked the courage of her convictions.”

He pointed specifically to an anecdote in Gates’ book that recalled a conversation between Clinton and Mr. Obama where both admitted their opposition to the 2007 surge in Iraq was, on some level, motivated by politics. He also suggested Mr. Obama should not have announced an exit date for the war in Afghanistan.

“Our allies see us as unreliable and our enemies feel emboldened.  And I think that this confirms our worst fears, that this is an administration that lacks a strategic foreign policy and, in fact, is largely driven by politics and tactics,” Rubio said.

 

 Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., echoed Rubio’s belief that the book’s timing could be damaging, especially while American troops are serving abroad.

“I just wish he could have waited a little bit longer,” Cummings said.

But he praised Gates for his service and put a positive spin on what Gates portrayed about Obama’s ambivalence about his own policies in Afghanistan.

“He comments about the president being concerned, about having second thoughts about putting troops in harm's way. I know the president. I know he cares about the troops,” Cummings said.

In an interview with Rita Braver of “CBS Sunday Morning” Gates defended his decision not to wait to publish the book.

“The fact that it deals with getting in to wars, getting out of wars and frankly seemed to me with the experience of -- and perspective of working for eight presidents and having been secretary for four and a half years, I didn't think the waiting until 2017 to weigh in on these issues and in a comprehensive and thoughtful way made any sense,” Gates said.

“People gave me a lot of credit when I was in office of being blunt and candid about what I felt about things,” he added. “I could hardly be any less in writing a book.”

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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