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Why It Matters that Gates Questions Obama’s Will in Afghanistan

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy
January 8, 2014
Defense One


The new memoir by Defense Secretary Robert Gates reminds me of a meeting in New York in late 2010, where I crossed paths with an Obama administration State Department official who was then working on the Afghanistan strategy review.

At the time, stories of administration infighting and competing agendas regarding the war's future were swirling. "You have a messaging problem on Afghanistan," I said. "No one knows what the heck your policy is."

"We don't have a messaging problem," the official responded. "We have a policy problem."

That policy problem now has exploded into the spotlight in early excerpts from Gates' memoir of his time serving in Obama's cabinet. Gates' says that during Afghanistan war deliberations in 2010, he felt the president "doesn't believe in his own strategy, and doesn't consider the war to be his. For him, it's all about getting out."

Singled out for special ire was Vice President Joe Biden, whose "preferred strategy of reducing our presence in Afghanistan to rely on counterterrorist strikes from afar" was one with which Gates disagreed. "Whac-A-Mole' hits on Taliban leaders weren't a long-term strategy," Gates writes.

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