Obama didn't believe his own war strategy, says former Defence Secretary

Former Defence Secretary Robert Gates has delivered a scathing critique of President Barack Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan in a revealing new memoir, United States (US) media reported on Tuesday. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
Former Defence Secretary Robert Gates has delivered a scathing critique of President Barack Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan in a revealing new memoir, United States (US) media reported on Tuesday. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Former Defence Secretary Robert Gates has delivered a scathing critique of President Barack Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan in a revealing new memoir, United States (US) media reported on Tuesday.

In Duty: Memoirs Of A Secretary Of War, Mr Gates recounts how Mr Obama appeared to lack faith in a war strategy he had approved and the commander he named to lead it, General David Petraeus, and did not like Afghan President Hamid Karzai, according to The New York Times and The Washington Post.

"As I sat there, I thought: the President doesn't trust his commander, can't stand Karzai, doesn't believe in his own strategy and doesn't consider the war to be his," Mr Gates writes of a March 2011 meeting in the White House.

"For him, it's all about getting out."

Having approved deploying more than 30,000 forces after an acrimonious White House debate, the US President seemed plagued by doubts and surrounded by civilian aides who sowed distrust with the military, Mr Gates writes.

Mr Obama was "sceptical if not outright convinced it would fail", Gates writes in the memoir, which is due to be released on Jan 14.

In contrast to his subdued, even-keeled public demeanour as Pentagon chief, Mr Gates strikes an often bitter tone in his memoir, according to The Post.

Mr Gates, a former CIA director whose career dates back to the Nixon administration, voices frustration at the "controling nature" of Mr Obama's White House, which he says constantly interfered in Pentagon affairs, even though civilian aides lacked an understanding of military operations.

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

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

After a tense meeting on Afghanistan in September 2009, Mr Gates says he came close to resigning because he was "deeply uneasy with the Obama White House's lack of appreciation - from the top down - of the uncertainties and unpredictability of war". Mr Gates, however, gives credit to Mr Obama for approving the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, which he himself initially opposed.

It was "one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed in the White House". Although Mr Gates heaps praise on the former secretary of state, Mrs Hillary Clinton, he is stunned by an exchange between Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton in which the two openly admit they opposed a troop surge in Iraq in 2007 for purely political reasons.

"Hillary told the President that her opposition to the surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary," Mr Gates writes.

"... The President conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying," he says.

Mr Gates helped oversee the deployment of additional troops to Iraq during the Bush administration.

A Republican, Mr Gates served under ex-President George W. Bush and was asked to stay on at the Pentagon for two years after Mr Obama entered office.