How Bob Gates’s memoir could haunt Hillary in 2016

Bob Gates might just have handed Republicans (and maybe even a Democrat or two) an issue in their potential fight to keep Hillary Rodham Clinton from the presidency in 2016.


In this May 1, 2011, image released by the White House and digitally altered by the source to obscure the details of a document in front of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, at right with hand covering mouth, President Obama, second from left, Vice President Biden, left, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, right, and members of the national security team watch an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington. AP Photo/The White House, Pete Souza

In a new memoir of his time as secretary of defense in the Obama administration, Gates writes: “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. . . . 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.”

Oomph.  Just to jog your memory, Clinton announced that she opposed the Iraq surge being pushed by President George W. Bush in the days leading up to the announcement of her presidential bid. She instead proposed a freeze in troop levels in the country and advocated for a troop increase in Afghanistan.

The stories written at the time mentioned how Clinton was coming under pressure from the increasingly vocal anti-war left to oppose the troop surge -- particularly given that it was becoming increasingly obvious that then-Sen. Barack Obama, who, unlike Clinton, opposed the Iraq war from the start, was going to be her main rival for the nomination. Opposing the surge was cast by many political observers as a sign to the left that she had evolved since her vote for the use-of-force resolution earlier in the decade.

At one level, Gates's allegation is not at all surprising. Politicians factor in politics when making decisions? Gasp! And they occasionally adjust their policy positions based on the changing winds of public opinion? Double gasp! (Also worth noting: Gates praises Clinton at other points in the memoir, lauding her as "smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world.")

But, remember this is Hillary Clinton we are talking about.  And, the criticism that has always haunted her is that everything she does is infused with politics -- that there is no core set of beliefs within her but rather just political calculation massed upon political calculation. Remember that she began slipping in the 2008 Democratic primary when her opponents seized on an overly political answer on giving drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants during a debate in  late 2o07.

Gates's version of why Clinton opposed the surge fits perfectly into this existing good-politics-makes-good-policy narrative about the former secretary of state. And that's what makes it dangerous for her --  and why you can be sure she (or her people) will (and must) dispute Gates's recollection quickly and definitively.

PHOTOS: Hillary Clinton away from the microphones

 

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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