Gates: White House 'should go look in the mirror'

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed back against critics who suggested he should have sat on his memoir about his years in the Obama administration, insisting his tell-all is not a “betrayal” of Obama.

In an interview with Yahoo News Global Anchor Katie Couric, Gates insisted he did not have an “adversarial relationship” with Obama and that he has a “lot of admiration” for the president. But the former defense secretary, who also worked for President George W. Bush, did not mince words about Obama’s current and former top aides, who have slammed Gates’ account as being self-serving and driven by politics.

“Well, for a micromanaging White House, they should go look in the mirror,” Gates told Couric. “Maybe they ought to think about how they do business. And I think it’s fair to say that the book is a lot more critical about the people around the president than it is of the president.”

Still, Gates said Obama was ultimately responsible for setting the tone of a White House he says was marked by tension and infighting between the president’s staff and more senior members of the administration.

“At the end of the day, the president controls what goes on inside the White House,” he said. “The environment and the style of the White House is established by the president.”

Gates has made waves with the publication of “Duty,” a 618-page memoir of his years as defense secretary under Bush and Obama. In the book, he takes aim at political aides in the Obama White House for attempting to micromanage the Pentagon and allowing politics to trump the national interest in policy debates. He also accuses Obama aides of circumventing the military chain of command.  

Some members of Congress, including Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have said that Gates should have waited until Obama left office before leveling such potentially damaging charges. But Gates rejected that criticism.

“Frankly, I just don’t buy the notion that the book shouldn’t have been written or shouldn’t have been written for another three years or that it is a negative narrative about President Obama,” Gates said.

While Gates acknowledged that his book included “pretty stark statements” about the Obama administration’s handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he insisted he had put his concerns “in context” and that every issue he cites in the book he also raised with Obama or his top aides while he was still in the administration.

“I can’t think of a single issue in this book that I did not raise inside the administration with the president, with the chief of staff of the White House, the national security adviser,” Gates said. “There isn’t a single one of these issues that I didn’t raise internally and express my concern.”

That presumably includes his unhappiness with how younger, less-experienced members of the White House staff treated more senior members of the administration. Gates told Couric he was “troubled” by how Obama would sometimes “give more weight” to the views of the younger aides — noting that they encouraged U.S. intervention in Egypt and Libya, even with he and the rest of the Cabinet did not.

Asked if that “bugged” him, Gates replied, “Yeah.”

Gates pointed out that many of Obama’s top aides were “in high school or undergraduates” when he took his first Cabinet-level position, as President George H.W. Bush’s Central Intelligence Agency director in 1987. To the Obama aides, Gates told Couric, “I was sort of the geezer.”

Gates also stood by his withering criticism of Vice President Joe Biden, who he writes has been “in the wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."

Asked to name specifically what Biden had gotten wrong, Gates ticked off a litany of what he termed errors in judgment, including Biden’s vote against a bill granting aid to Vietnam in the aftermath of the war when Biden had first joined the Senate. He also criticized Biden’s opposition to several Reagan administration defense bills as well as to the first Gulf War.

Yet Gates also described Biden as a “stand-up guy” and acknowledged they had agreed on “almost every major foreign policy question that came before the Obama administration.”

But while Gates tried to downplay his criticism of Obama’s leadership, he faulted the president for being “suspicious” of military leadership. And he also criticized his “unwillingness” to explain to the public why the mission in Afghanistan was important and worth the sacrifice of those serving — even if he didn’t fully support the war.

“I think it’s the obligation of the commander in chief. You are sending out men and women into harm’s way,” Gates said. “You need to tell them why their cause is just, why their cause is noble. You can’t go out there and tell them, 'I want you to risk your lives for a tie.'”

Watch the full interview below.