Gates on Reid: 'I Do Denigrate Him,' But 'I've Tried to Critically Appraise' People in Washington

WASHINGTON -- Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates shot back at Harry Reid’s criticism of his new book Duty on Thursday evening in Washington.

“I’m surprised he would in effect denigrate everybody he came in contact with in an effort to make a buck,” Reid reportedly said.

“He denigrates everybody, everyone, Secretary (of State Hillary Rodham) Clinton, the president, (Vice President) Joe Biden, me.”

Reid said he has not discussed Gates’ book with President Obama but he spoke with Biden and “we just lamented how disappointed we were.”

“It’s obvious it’s to sell a book,” Reid added.

“Well, first of all, you know, it’s common practice on the Hill to vote on the bills you haven’t read,” Gates said to laughter from the audience at Politico’s Cocktails event at the Mayflower Hotel on Thursday.

“It’s perfectly clear that Senator Reid has not read the book. He will find that I do denigrate him but I think he will find that in fact I have a lot of positive things to say about virtually everybody I wrote about – but as with myself in the book, I’ve tried to critically appraise others. I called attention to mistakes that I believe I made as secretary of Defense – things I could have done better and I think I have positive things to say about virtually everybody else,” Gates also said.

The former secretary of Defense under presidents George W. Bush and Obama said he has decided to donate most of the income from his book to charity.

“I’ve already decided that a substantial part of whatever income might come from this book I will give away, including to organizations dealing with wounded warriors,” he said.

Politico reporter Mike Allen asked Gates to respond to critics who argue that the timing of his book is wrong since his former boss is still in office and the war in Afghanistan is not over.

Gates, who left the Pentagon in July 2011, said he was loyal to Obama by not taking any of his concerns public during his time in the administration.

“Until we got to the Arab Spring and Egypt and Libya, I supported every single decision the president made on national security and foreign policy including the outreach to Iran, the outreach to Russia, obviously all of his decisions on Afghanistan,” Gates said.

Allen also asked Gates why he thinks the American public does not hear Obama speak much about the war in Afghanistan.

In response, Gates said Obama should explain to the troops why success in Afghanistan is important and why their cause is just and noble.

“I once told Rahm [Emanuel] – I said I don’t object to the president’s speeches about exit strategies but the troops need to hear the commander in chief tell them why he is sending them there and why their sacrifice is worthwhile,” Gates said.

Gates, the former director of intelligence under George H. W. Bush, also addressed his experience serving with Clinton.

“In the entire two and a half years that I worked with Hillary as secretary of State when I was secretary of Defense, I never once heard her mention domestic politics as a factor in her recommendations or in her thinking about what we should do in foreign policy,” he told the audience.

“It really underscored for me the difference between somebody campaigning as a senator and somebody who has been given national security responsibilities and in a way it paralleled the president.”

At the end of the day, Obama set politics aside on national security issues and did what he thought was best for the country, Gates added.

Gates wrote in his book, though, “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.”