The Washington Post

Bob Gates: undermining the sales surge?

WASHINGTON STATE - JANUARY 7: Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is photographed at his home in Washington State prior to the release of his memoirs titled Bob Gates, already “clarifying.” (Scott Eklund/ Red Box Pictures for The Washington Post)

Former defense secretary Bob Gates may know a thing or two about military strategy. Book promotion? Not so much.

Gates on Monday —  the very day before his memoir “Duty” goes on sale — was on television “clarifying” probably the most newsworthy, most explosive,  allegation in it: that President Obama’s opposition to the troop surge in Iraq was political.

No, no, no. Very bad timing.  Clarifications, while of course, laudable, even encouraged, should come well after the book has hit the shelves. Doing the mea culpas at the height of the buzz is unnecessary and could well undermine the sales surge. It also betrays a lack of commitment to the memoir.

(Clarifications a few weeks later  are great,  since they can serve to stoke waning interest.)

“What I say in the book was that the president conceded a lot of opposition to the surge had been political,” Gates said on NBC’s “Today Show.” “He never said that his opposition had been political. And, in fact, his opposition was consistent with his opposition to the war all along.”

Wait a second. It’s clear that  Gates says  then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apparently admitted that her opposition to the surge was a function of her 2008 presidential primary battle with  Obama.

Then Gates wrote: “The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political.”  Okay. That’s clearly not a direct shot at Obama.

But here comes the problem. Gates said he was disappointed with both their concessions. “To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.”

Maybe, in Gates’s recollection, Clinton made a direct “admission.” But Obama clearly didn’t. He simply made an observation. Hardly headline-worthy. (Okay. Completely off the record. We’ll deny we ever wrote this: Gates’s book is why everyone needs a tough editor to catch fuzzy writing.)

Gates stood firmly by his claim that Vice President Biden has been wrong about almost every major national security and foreign policy decision of the last four decades. Yeah, well, that’s just a cheap broadside that’s obviously Gates’s opinion. Right or wrong, that one’s not gonna drive sales.


Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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