National Security Back in the Spotlight

Deteriorating situation in Iraq, criticism by Gates are among foreign policy issues Obama is facing.

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Suddenly, national security is again on the front burner as an issue and a political sore point for President Obama.

One reason is the deteriorating situation in Iraq, where al-Qaida forces have seized control of parts of Fallujah and Ramadi. The overall level of violence also is increasing in that country, prompting worries among U.S. policymakers that the regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki might be in trouble.

Another problem for Obama is a surprising and sharp-edged critique of his military policies by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who says Obama really doesn't believe in the mission of American troops in Afghanistan.

Regarding the deteriorating situation in Iraq, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Fox News that the Obama administration "blew the whole thing and it's really tragic."

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, and President Barack Obama.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, and President Barack Obama.

McCain, one of the Republican party's leading voices on national security issues, blasted Obama for failing to leave some U.S. forces in Iraq, which McCain said would have created more stability. "But this administration wanted everybody out," McCain added.

"They got everybody out and we predicted that without that residual force, not for fighting but to assist the Iraqi military and have a beneficial effect on Maliki, that this whole thing would unravel. And it has." McCain said the situation is going "to hell in a hand basket" and the Obama administration is guilty of "gross mishandling of Iraq." The administration withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011.

[OPINION: U.S. Credibility Around the World Damaged by Afghanistan War]

Also blasting Obama was Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. He said Obama's policies amount to "a political squandering of military victories" achieved by American troops in Iraq over the past decade. "What this president did was abandon everything that we fought for because Iraq could not sustain itself without some American involvement," Hunter told Fox News.

Gates, who served both Obama and President George W. Bush as defense secretary, says that during his time running the Pentagon Obama was "skeptical if not outright convinced it [his policy in Afghanistan] would fail." Gates gives this assessment in his new book, "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War," according to accounts by The Associated Press and Washington Post, which apparently obtained advance copies.

Gates also is very critical of Vice President Joe Biden. He says Biden, while "a man of personal integrity," has been "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades." In response, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House issued a statement that Obama values Biden's counsel.

On another matter, the former defense secretary writes that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at a White House meeting, "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."

More News:

  • An Up-Close Look at the Wrong End of War in Afghanistan
  • Afghan Medevacs Run to Gunfire, Explosions to Rescue Injured Comrades
  • Afghanistan Lifelines: New Technologies Bring Home Grievously Wounded Troops
  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at and on Facebook and Twitter.