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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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January 8th, 2014
10:37 AM ET

Former Obama administration officials react to Gates' criticism

By CNN Chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper

(CNN) - President Barack Obama's decision to keep Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense was regarded as an olive branch to Republicans worried about the then-new commander-in-chief's distinct lack of military credentials. The Bush administration holdover served two years under Obama, helping maintain some continuity as the President took over stewardship of two wars.

But now, Gates is criticizing Obama's handling of the Afghanistan conflict in a new memoir.

"This comes completely out of the blue. In my conversations with him, he was effusive about working with (the President). It's disappointing. I wouldn't have expected this from Gates," a former Obama administration official tells CNN.

It is an enormous breach of trust to disclose sensitive deliberations, and if Gates' concern is about the troops and their morale, it is surprising to then offer his opinion that the President doesn't believe in the strategy when they're still fighting, says the former official.

An excerpt of Gates' memoir appeared in the Wall Street Journal:

Most of my conflicts with the Obama administration during the first two years weren't over policy initiatives from the White House but rather the (National Security Staff's) micromanagement and operational meddling, which I routinely resisted. For an NSS staff member to call a four-star combatant commander or field commander would have been unthinkable when I worked at the White House—and probably cause for dismissal. It became routine under Obama. I directed commanders to refer such calls to my office. The controlling nature of the Obama White House, and its determination to take credit for every good thing that happened while giving none to the career folks in the trenches who had actually done the work, offended Secretary Clinton as much as it did me.

Gates is "absolutely right" that this White House has centralized decision making on foreign policy in an unprecedented way, another former official tells CNN.

But, if the then-Defense Secretary "had substantive concerns about those decisions, he could have told those to the President during his Tuesday afternoon weekly one-on-one sessions with him," a third former Obama official says.

Gates is likely not going to enter government again for the rest of his life. This is his second book, and sources close to the former secretary tell CNN that Gates wanted to give an honest reflection on his time in office.

The book also contains criticisms about the Bush administration, but because that administration is over it is not getting as much attention.

"Publicly (dumping) on presidents who hired you and colleagues who trusted you in order to help sell a book isn't a very admirable thing to do," said a fourth former Obama administration official.

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