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Gates Says His Points About Obama Have Been Mischaracterized

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Reports this week about former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' new book have implied that he thinks President Obama approved a 2009 troop surge in Afghanistan "believing the strategy would fail," as NPR's Steve Inskeep said on Friday's Morning Edition.

That would have been "incredibly cynical" of the president, Steve added.

But Gates says his words have been misconstrued, Steve says. In an interview with NPR on Thursday, the former Pentagon chief said (and here, Steve is paraphrasing, not directly quoting):

"I never wrote that. I never believed that. I don't think the president ever did that."

According to Steve, "Gates says what happened here really was the president approved a strategy in 2009, added troops in Afghanistan, thought and hoped it would work but became skeptical later on."

In the book, says Steve, Gates "does hammer President Obama and his administration" at several points — but also "praises the president," comparing his decision-making style to that of Abraham Lincoln.

Gates, a Republican, became defense secretary under President George W. Bush in 2006. Obama asked him to stay on, and Gates did until late June 2011.

During the interview, Gates defended writing the book while a president he served is still in office. He sees himself, says Steve, as a historian and a writer who's had an experience that should be told now — while questions of war and peace are being debated — rather than later.

He's not the first former Cabinet official or top aide to write something of a tell-all before a president he served has left the White House. Politico rounds up other examples. They include former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's book that claimed President George W. Bush had planned to invade Iraq before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and former White House aide George Stephanopoulos' "unvarnished" book about the Clinton White House.

NPR's interview with Gates is scheduled to be on Monday's Morning Edition. He's also going to be on CBS-TV's Sunday Morning, which previewed its conversation with him here.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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