Jan. 13, 2014 at 8:42 AM ET
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates clarified claims he supposedly made about President Obama’s commitment to the military surge in Afghanistan, saying Monday he “absolutely believed” the commander-in-chief supported the mission at the time.
Gates told TODAY’s Matt Lauer that the president fully supported the November 2009 surge but began to have reservations by the following spring.
“But as late as December 2010, he was still saying we were on the right track in Afghanistan,” he said. “So it was in our private conversations that he would express these reservations about whether it was working. But the decisions were right, and I believe that he believed it would work. “
Gates has been under fire for statements made in his new memoir, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” that suggested Obama lacked commitment to decisions he made about his strategy in Afghanistan.
On TODAY, Gates said Obama’s concerns paralleled those of President George W. Bush in 2006 about his Iraq strategy.
On Iraq, Gates said that he never claimed Obama opposed the military operation purely for political reasons.
“What I say in the book was that the president conceded that a lot of opposition to the surge had been political. He never said that his opposition was political. In fact, his opposition was consistent with his opposition to the war all along,” Gates said.
Hillary Clinton, however, admitted while campaigning for the White House in 2008 that her opposition to Iraq was political, Gates said.
“It was such an anomaly, because in the whole time I served with Secretary Clinton, I never heard her as Secretary of State discuss domestic politics in any way, shape or form as influencing her recommendations to the president or her views on issues of national security,” Gates said.
Gate said his claim should not hurt Clinton should she decide to make another run for the White House.
“I think there’s a difference when you’re in the Senate and you're campaigning for office, and when you have the responsibility of office. And when she had the responsibility of office, as I say, I never heard her bring domestic politics into the issue.”
Gates said he wasn’t surprised by the reaction his book has received, just disappointed.
“The book has sort of been hijacked by people along the political spectrum to serve their own purposes, taking quotes out of context,” he said. “It’s sort of the political warfare in Washington that I decry in the book.”
Gates also defended his book as a fair to all it covers.
“I think the book is very even-handed. I don’t vilify anybody and I make clear that I have a lot of respect for both President Bush and President Obama.”
In his memoir, Gates also describes the personal impact of his long government career, which has included stints with the CIA and the National Security Council. While serving various administrations, he has visited numerous military cemeteries, servicemen on the front lines and wounded soldiers recovering in hospitals.
“I’ve been through a number of wars, beginning with Vietnam, but generally from antiseptic offices," he said. "And seeing these young people up front, up close, on the front lines in Afghanistan and in Iraq, seeing them in the hospital, seeing their families, had a huge impact on me.”