Former Bush and Obama Secretary of Defense Robert Gates generally speaks warmly of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in his forthcoming memoir. But there is one passage in which he expresses his dismay at Clinton admitting that the reason she opposed President Bush's troop surge in Iraq was strictly political rather than based on a genuine disagreement with the policy.
But fear not, Hillary boosters, for the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza has your back, spinning away the admission in his 12-paragraph page A5 story in Wednesday's paper (h/t WMAL's Chris Plante, who addressed this on his January 8 radio program; emphasis mine):
In the memoir about his time in the Obama administration, Gates writes: “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the  surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary."
Just to jog your memory, Clinton announced that she opposed the Iraq surge being pushed by President George W. Bush in the days leading up to the announcement of her presidential bid. She instead proposed a freeze in troop levels in the country and advocated for a troop increase in Afghanistan.
The stories written at the time mentioned how Clinton was coming under pressure from the increasingly vocal anti-war left to oppose the troop surge -- particularly given that it was becoming increasingly obvious that then-Sen. Barack Obama, who, unlike Clinton, opposed the Iraq war from the start, was going to be her main rival for the nomination. Opposing the surge was cast by many political observers as a sign to the left that she had evolved since her vote for the use-of-force resolution earlier in the decade.
At one level, Gates's allegation is not at all surprising. Politicians factor in politics when making decisions? Gasp! And they occasionally adjust their policy positions based on the changing winds of public opinion? Double gasp! (Also worth noting: Gates praises Clinton at other points in the memoir, lauding her as "smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world.")
But, remember this is Hillary Clinton we are talking about. And the criticism that has always haunted her is that everything she does is infused with politics -- that there is no core set of beliefs within her but rather just political calculation massed upon political calculation.
Gates has even tougher words for Biden, whom he accuses of "poisoning the well" against military leadership.
Essentially Cillizza's spin boils down to two things: 1) that Hillary Clinton opposed the surge for political reasons is old news, hardly worth mentioning and 2) all in all, Gates's account of Clinton is positive and outweighs the few negatives that critics will glom onto.
It's thoroughly possible that, as secretary of state Clinton acquitted herself well contra her previous naked partisanship as a senator who was vying for the Democratic nomination for president. That being said, it's also thoroughly possible that, once again seeking the Democratic nomination, that Mrs. Clinton would campaign and make foreign policy campaign promises in a way that are politically calculated, not based on her actual policy preferences.
To listen to Chris Plante's take on the Cillizza item, click here.
Note: Plante read from Cillizza's January 7 The Fix blog post. The selection I quoted above is from the slightly-different version print version in the January 8 paper.