Obama praises Robert Gates' tenure despite critical memoir

President Obama praised Robert Gates, his former defense secretary, and called him “a good friend” even though Gates has just published a behind-the-scenes memoir that is highly critical of Mr. Obama's administration

“Secretary Gates did an outstanding job for me as Secretary of Defense. As he notes he and I and the rest of my national security team came up with a strategy for Afghanistan that was the right strategy and that we are continuing to execute and I think that what’s important is that we got the policy right, but that this is hard,” Mr. Obama told reporters following a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey. “Secretary Gates was an outstanding Secretary of Defense, a good friend of mine, and I’ll always be grateful for his service,” Mr. Obama added later.

Gates’ memoir describes the “controlling nature” of the Obama national security team, and he suggests that the president "eventually lost faith in the troop increase he ordered in Afghanistan.”

Mr. Obama appeared to defend himself against those charges, telling reporters, “part of your job as commander in chief is to sweat the details on it and to recognize that there’s enormous scarifies that are being made and you are constantly asking yourselves questions about how you can improve the strategy…War is never easy, and I think all of us who have been through that process understand that,” he said.

The president also weighed in publicly on an agreement between Iran and six world powers to begin implementing an interim deal that would begin to halt Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

The process of working out a longer deal will be “difficult,” the president said, “but this is how diplomacy should work.”

“My preference is for peace and diplomacy and that is why I have sent a message to Congress that now is not the time for new sanctions,” he said.

U.S. lawmakers have expressed doubts about whether the U.S. can trust Iran’s promises and many senators – including Mr. Obama’s Democratic allies – are moving to implement a fresh round of sanctions. The White House has pushed back on their efforts and Mr. Obama has repeatedly pledged to veto any sanctions legislation that came across his desk.

Mr. Obama and Rajoy appeared to focus their discussion on global economic problems, which have taken a toll in Spain. The president praised Spanish lawmakers for undertaking reforms to speed up growth. The two also discussed security cooperation.

Rajoy was asked about revelations that the National Security Agency had been spying on foreign leaders, but did not echo the outrage from some of his counterparts in countries like Brazil and Spain. He said the Spanish government has had “fluid contact” with U.S. diplomats and deemed their discussions about surveillance “satisfactory.”

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.