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White House Gates Strategy: What’s the Big Fuss?

The White House today low-keyed its response to an incendiary book by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, suggesting nobody in the White House particularly cared much about the 640-page tome.

Gates made a series of damaging charges against the Obama administration, including that Vice President Biden was a serial screw up when it came to foreign policy judgements and that Obama sent U.S. servicemen and women into harm’s way in the Afghanistan “surge” without having confidence in the mission.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney today said he had a copy of the book but hadn’t bothered to read it. What’s more, he doesn’t know who else has a copy, including whether the president has one on his desk or will ever read it.

Well, either someone’s misleading the press or the White House PR operation should be sued for malpractice. According to David Martosko of the Daily Mail, it’s more the former than the latter.

From his piece, which quotes an unnamed White House staffer:

“They’re breaking it down and dividing it up in the West Wing,” the aide told MailOnline, describing a frantic scene. “No one saw this coming.” The White House staffer who spoke to MailOnline said that “by morning there were chapters floating around.”

In a separate conversation, he added that “this is very, very bad. Jay is spinning everyone. But then, that’s his job.”

Mortosko’s take makes sense. Assigning chapters to various aides for a quick read and response is what I’d expect of the White House.

The low-key approach was accompanied by an aggressive seizure of the high road, with the White House praising Gates for his service and quoting sections of the book complimentary to Obama.

The willingness to defend Biden, both by issuing a statement lauding his foreign policy expertise and having him appear in a photo op with Obama today, may be, as Jonathan Allen points out in Politico, an effort shift the focus from Obama to Biden. But it’s more likely in response to a nervous Biden insisting that he be protected in order to help preserve his viability for 2016.

Nevertheless, the White House did rebut the stunning charge that Obama launched 30,000 surge troops into battle without believing they could succeed.

Obama had “great faith in the mission itself,” Carney said.

Gates: Libya Not in our Vital National Interest

Appearing on the Sunday TV show circuit yesterday as a duo with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that while the United States has “interests” in Libya, they are not vital national interests, and that our intervention was done to prevent a massacre and to help our allies, for whom Libya is a vital national interest.

The New York Times has a good summary of the Bob and Hillary show.

Seems to me the message is that President Obama’s speech to the nation tonight will have nothing new, except gravitas, which is kind of welcome.

Gates Leaving . . . Sometime Next Year

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Foreign Policy magazine he is bowing out sometime in 2011, after it’s clear whether the Afghan surge has worked but before the presidential election season heats up.

The White House swiftly corralled reporters to try to tell them it’s nothing new. From the pool report out in Wisconsin, where Obama is traveling.

(Deputy Press Secretary Bill) Burton pulled the pool aside to address comments that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made on his future to Foreign Policy. He said Gates had agreed to stay on longer than his intended service. “The president is gratefully thankful for that service, but any announcement will come from him,” Burton said. He said Gates had said publicly he would likely move on in 2011.

“It’s not a surprise to see him discussing his plans to move on,” Burton said.

Well, yeah, it’s a surprise. When was the last time you heard a top administration official forecasting their own departure?