President Obama gradually became more doubtful about the prospects for a successful ending to the war in Afghanistan, goaded by inexperienced White House advisors and a dislike of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, according to his former Defence secretary, Robert Gates.
In a rare display of insolence by a former cabinet member towards a sitting president, Gates, Mr Obama’s defence secretary until 2011, denounced the president for doubting his own strategy of deploying 30,000 more troops to stabilise Afghanistan before the start of a phased withdrawal in 2011.
Gates wrote that Obama “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out,” according to an excerpt from Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, quoted by the Washington Post.
“I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” writes Gates, who portrays the US commander-in-chief as distrustful and suspicious of his military leaders.
Gates blasts the White House’s tight control over every aspect of national security policy and “even operations,” describing the Obama administration as “by far the most centralised and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost”.
Dismissive of White House staff and national security advisers, he directed the Pentagon not to give them too much information on military operations. “They don’t understand it, and ‘experts’ like Samantha Power will decide when we should move military,” he writes.
The former defence secretary, who served every president since Nixon excluding Bill Clinton, is particularly harsh on US vice-president Joe Biden, accusing him of “poisoning the well” against the military leadership.
The vice-president has been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” Gates writes in an assessment that will not help Biden’s presidential hopes.
The White House defended Obama’s second-in-command, describing Biden as “one of the leading statesmen of his time” and saying the president “relies on his good counsel every day.”
Hillary Clinton, who served as Mr Obama’s secretary of state while Mr Gates was at the Pentagon, receives more favourable treatment in the book extracts, which appeared in several newspapers ahead of the publication of the memoir next Tuesday and the accompanying promotional tour.
Gates extols Clinton as “smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a valuable colleague and a superb representative of the United States all over the world.”
But he recalls a potentially damaging episode for Clinton when she and Obama said at a meeting that they opposed an increase in troop numbers in Iraq in 2007, fearing that it would negatively affect their 2008 presidential campaigns.
“To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying,” he writes of their “remarkable” exchange.
Former White House senior adviser David Axelrod described the language in Gates’s account of this meeting as “vague” and “subjective,” while Bill Daley, Obama’s former chief of staff, described Gates’s decision to publish the memoir before the end of the Obama administration as “unfortunate”.
The views expressed by Gates will carry sway and may have significant implications for the 2016 race to the White House. The former public servant is a deeply respected figure in Washington DC who was seen as even-tempered and able to work with Democrat and Republican presidents alike.
The publication of the Gates memoir comes as a shadow campaign develops for a second heave at the White House for Mrs Clinton even though she has made no public announcement that she will run.
Election organisers have assessed another Clinton presidential campaign while outside fundraising groups have been established independently to build an election war chest for the former senator.