Gates Goes All In on Biden Criticisms: ‘Frankly, I Believe It’

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates Alex Brandon/AP

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates isn't backing down from his searing indictment of Vice President Joe Biden, saying in an interview Monday that he wrote that Biden has an abysmal record on foreign policy because "I believe it."

"On a number of these major issues ... I think he had been wrong," Gates tells NPR's Steve Inskeep, listing Biden's stances against aid to South Vietnam, the first Persian Gulf War, and President Reagan's defense buildup, among other issues, to explain his reasoning.

Gates also blames Biden for "stoking the president's suspicions of the military" during debates centered on the war in Afghanistan.

Gates's long, expansive, and frank interview also has the author of the controversial new book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, defending himself against early media reviews last week that he believes oversimplified his relationship with and opinion of President Obama. He attempted to dispel reports that his memoir portrays Obama as going along with the military surge in Afghanistan despite personally believing it would not succeed, explaining that Obama was led to believe the surge would fail by Biden and members of his Cabinet.

 Ultimately, Obama made "decisions based on what he thought was in the best interest of U.S. national security," Gates says.

"I felt he came to have doubts about whether his own strategy could succeed, and I think that some of the early reporting suggested that he made the decision in December or November of 2009 believing it wouldn't work. I don't believe that for a second. President Obama would never do that, in my view. I think when he made that decision in November of 2009, he believed that strategy would work."

Gates added that despite media portrayals of him critical of Obama, "the truth is, we had a very good personal relationship." He also confides that he faced more frustrations with Obama's staff than the president himself, offering: "Let's just say that the way it worked under—in the Obama White House—was not anything like I had seen before."

Gates is especially critical in his interview of Obama's National Security Council, which he charges with "going outside of the chain of command" by being "in direct contact with combatant commanders."

Gates's soon-to-be bestselling 640-page memoir, due out Tuesday, was thoroughly covered last week for its lacerations of the Obama White House, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But if Gates reupped on his criticism of Biden during his NPR interview, he largely retreated from suggestions that he thought the potential 2016 presidential hopeful's foreign policy decisions were motivated by political calculus:

"I will say this about Hillary: In the two and a half years that I served with her as secretary of State, I never once saw her let domestic politics affect her positions on issues. And maybe there's a difference between, you know, a senator who's running for political office and somebody who actually has responsibility, but I just—I never heard Secretary Clinton once bring domestic politics into the discussion as a factor during the two and a half years we served together and when she was secretary of State."

Gates is in the early stages of promoting his book—and defending what he wrote in it. Also on Monday, Gates charged that his book had been "hijacked by people along the political spectrum to serve their own purposes, taking quotes out of context" during an appearance on NBC's TODAY show. On Friday, he wrote a lengthy op-ed in The Wall Street Journal arguing that he became an "outsider" in the Obama administration and lambasting the "unfamiliarity of both [Obama and Biden] with the American military culture."

His new comments might not come to any relief for Biden, or the extremely Biden-defensive White House, but at least one possible 2016 contender can sleep a bit better.

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