US & Canada

White House defends Joe Biden from Robert Gates critique

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates (right) and US Vice President Joe Biden in Baghdad on 1 September 2010 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption US Defence Secretary Robert Gates (right) said Vice President Joe Biden was "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy" issue (file photo)

White House officials are defending Vice President Joe Biden following a scathing attack by former defence secretary Robert Gates.

In his recent memoir, Mr Gates criticised Mr Biden as well as US President Barack Obama for foreign policy decisions.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney described Mr Biden as a "leading" statesman on Wednesday.

Mr Gates was Pentagon chief under Presidents Obama and George Bush.

'Excellent counsellor'

Image copyright AP
Image caption President Barack Obama (left) and Vice President Joe Biden shared lunch in the White House on Wednesday

Mr Obama and Mr Biden were photographed together having lunch in the White House on Wednesday in what has largely been seen as a deliberate show of support.

Mr Biden "has been an excellent counsellor and adviser to the president for the past five years," Mr Carney told reporters, adding Mr Obama did not share Mr Gates' assessment.

In his book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, Mr Gates wrote that Mr Biden had been "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades".

He also strongly criticised Mr Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan, writing the US leader was sceptical that his administration's Afghan strategy would succeed.

"I never doubted [his] support for the troops, only his support for their mission," Mr Gates writes.

Although he described Mr Obama as "a man of personal integrity" who was right in his decisions regarding Afghanistan, he said that the president was uncomfortable with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he inherited from the Bush administration.

He also said Mr Obama was distrustful of the military that was providing him options.

'Operational meddling'

He wrote in the memoir that in March 2011 Mr Obama did not trust Gen David Petraeus - the US military commander in Afghanistan in 2010-11 - and "could not stand" Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The president "doesn't consider the war to be his", Mr Gates wrote of a March 2011 meeting in the White House. "For him, it's all about getting out."

The former defence secretary also voiced frustration at the "controlling nature" of Mr Obama's White House, which he said constantly interfered in Pentagon affairs, even though civilian aides lacked knowledge of military operations.

The White House national security staff "took micromanagement and operational meddling to a new level," he wrote, comparing their approach to that of the Nixon era of the 1970s.

"All too early in the administration," Mr Gates wrote, "suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials - including the president and vice president - became a big problem for me as I tried to manage the relationship between the commander-in-chief and his military leaders."

Mr Gates was the first Pentagon head to serve presidents of different parties before leaving political office in 2011.

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