White House heaps praise on Vice President Joe Biden

Jan. 9, 2014 at 1:16 AM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- The White House, responding to a book's criticism of Joe Biden's policy handling, called the U.S. vice president "one of the leading statesmen of his time."

In his media briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney was questioned about the book "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War" by former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, which reportedly is critical of President Barack Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan and says Biden has been "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."

While Gates' book appears to have made a major impact, the White House came out strongly supporting the vice president.

"I would reiterate that the president and the rest of us here simply just disagree with that assessment," Carney said. "As a senator and as a vice president, Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time, and he has been an excellent counselor and adviser to the president for the past five years."

Carney said Biden has "played a key role in every major national security and foreign policy debate and policy discussion" in the administration and also played important roles in carrying out policy decisions of the president on Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The president has said many times that he greatly appreciates the advice and counsel the vice president gives him on matters both domestic and foreign, and that is absolutely the case," Carney said.

On Afghanistan and Pakistan, Carney said Obama oversaw a process to review U.S. policy in Afghanistan and in the region "precisely because the circumstances with regards to that policy when he took office were in disarray."

Carney said although he has not read Gates' book, his reading of some of its accounts showed the former defense secretary has said the president's review was a good thing to "narrow the mission, refocus it, make sure that it was clear to our troops and our civilian leaders and our military commanders what the mission was, because we owe that to them."

In another comment, Carney said Biden is "a key adviser on national security matters and domestic policy matters and other matters" for Obama and that the president "greatly values the counsel he provides. That's just the fact. And it's a fact known to everyone in this building every day," adding Biden has "done a lot of work on a lot of very complex issues, including Afghanistan and Iraq."

Asked about what message the U.S. troops would get from the book's observation that Obama was skeptical, if not convinced, about his strategy in Afghanistan, Carney said "it's well known that the president is committed to the mission" and that when it came to deciding matters such as sending troops into harm's way "we need to have a clear mission."

The New York Times reported that for the first time since the Obama presidency began, the White House let photographers Wednesday take pictures of Biden's weekly lunch with Obama.

The Times said Gates' assessment could be used by Biden's opponents if the vice president decides to run for president in 2016. However, the report also said Biden's supporters did not give much weight to Gates' criticism, noting Biden's recognition of the country's disenchantment with the war could help him in a political race.

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