TODAY   |  January 08, 2014

Axelrod on Gates memoir: Stories are confusing

Former senior adviser to President Obama and NBC News senior political analyst David Axelrod says he was surprised by the criticism from former Defense Secretary Bob Gates about the White House administration in an upcoming memoir.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> you. david axelrod is a former senior adviser to president obama . he's now an msnbc senior political analyst . hi, david, good morning.

>> hey, matt. how are you?

>> i'm good. thank you. on the positive side, robert gates says president obama 's decision to okay the mission to kill osama bin laden was one of the most courageous decisions he'd seen in the white house . but as we just heard, other comments in the book are pretty critical. while you were witnessing secretary gates, did you get a sense he was a guy who was stewing over what he was witnessing? that he was disgruntled in any way?

>> absolutely not. in fact, i was surprised when i saw the stories yesterday because i always felt they had a good working relationship. he always indicated he had a good working relationship with the president. and the stories themselves are confusing, matt. because in it, not only did he praise himself for the bin laden raid, he thought he made the right decisions on afghanistan . so his big complaint is that he thinks he wasn't sufficiently personally in his heart committed enough to his own strategy. i don't think that's true.

>> that quote on the strategy, he talks about being in a meeting. and he says as i sat there, i thought the president doesn't trust his commander. doesn't believe in his own strategy and doesn't consider it his war. for him, it's all about getting out. you say that's not a fair assessment?

>> well, first, i wasn't in that meeting, but i will tell you this, when we arrived at the white house , there was no afghanistan strategy, it was a mess. and what the president did was focus the mission, limit the mission, focus on al qaeda and dismantling al qaeda , which is why we went to afghanistan in the first place and developing a plan to unwind the war and bring our troops home. he was assiduous about trying to keep the military on that plan. i don't know what transpired at that meeting, but he was very committed to the mission and very appreciative to the great work our young men and women did in executing that mission.

>> i think this story about the iraq surge back in 2007 under president bush is even more damning. now, i'm paraphrasing here, but to suggest in this book that both secretary clinton or hillary clinton and barack obama oppose that surge purely for political and not strategic reasons, i think is going to upset a lot of people. he says this in the book. to hear the two of them making these admissions and in front of me was as surprising as it was dismaying. i think a lot of americans will be dismayed by that, too, david.

>> well, they may well be if they accept this. but barack obama opposed the war in iraq from 2002 forward from its inception. he was against it before, it was authorized by the united states senate . and he certainly wasn't going to double down on a strategy that he didn't believe in. i know because i was involved with him at that time. there was never a political discussion about this because his position on it was absolutely clear. and even in the book, based on the quotes that were in the newspapers, secretary gates said he made some vague suggestion that perhaps that was his position.

>> i want to go back.

>> that was not his position.

>> i want to go back to the credibility on these issues. a guy that served both republicans and democrats, a loyal defense secretary , sacrificed for his country. could you look him in the eye and tell me you thought he would be a guy that would make things up just to sell a book?

>> look, i'm not suggesting he made things up to sell a book. but i think the language that he used -- for example, on that iraq story was vague and it was subjective. and it was -- there was no declaration on the president's part he made that decision on a political basis. and it wouldn't have been. as i said, he was opposed to the war in iraq from the beginning for all the reasons that bob gates suggests in his book that he opposed the war in iraq because he thought it was a deflection from afghanistan where al qaeda was situated and where we needed to focus our efforts. i'm not going to go to his motives. i'm not going to impugn him in any way. but i'm telling you, from my experience, and i was rather close to the president when he was in the united states senate .

>> right.

>> that was absolutely not the case.

>> all right. david axelrod , important perspective this morning, thank you very much. we want to mention that former defense secretary gates will be here monday on "today" for his first live interview on this new memoir.

>> should be very interesting.