Obama and Hillary Clinton said opposition to Iraq surge was political, ex-defense secretary claims

A new memoir by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates claims that President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told each other that they both believe opposition to the Iraq surge in 2006 was a purely political move.

Specifically, Clinton reportedly said she opposed the surge to boost her nascent presidential campaign. But Obama did not specifically say his own opposition to the surge was politically motivated.

In his memoir, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” 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.”

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward writes in his analysis of the book that the revelation seems unusual because in other parts of the memoir, Gates heaps praise on Clinton, writing, “I found her smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world.”

The White House made it clear that Obama was not specifically referring to his own opposition to the surge when he spoke with Clinton. "It’s well known that as a matter of principle and sound policy, President Obama opposed going to war in the first place, opposed the surge of forces, and then ended the war in Iraq as President. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong," a White House official told Yahoo News on Tuesday.

Gates has previously been praised for his nonpartisan approach to his career, having worked for several administrations and most recently continuing his tenure through the Bush and Obama administrations.

But he is particularly critical of Vice President Joe Biden in the book, accusing Biden of “poisoning the well” with military leaders, adding, “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Gates also mixed praise with criticism of Obama in his memoir, describing the president as “a man of personal integrity.” And even while criticizing Obama’s policy decisions in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars at the time, Gates concludes, “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.”

For Clinton, the surge admission adds yet another layer to her complicated history with the Iraq War.

At the time of the surge vote, Clinton said she instead favored an Afghanistan surge instead of one in Iraq.

Three years earlier, Clinton was part of a large group of Democratic senators who voted in favor of a Senate resolution giving President Bush authorization to launch a military strike against Iraq.

Clinton’s perceived support of the war was a major point of contention in her primary campaign against Obama, and one of the primary reasons cited by Democratic voters in their decision to vote for Obama, who publicly opposed the war at the time that he served as a state senator in Illinois.

Chief Washington correspondent Olivier Knox contributed to this report