NEW ORLEANS — Hillary Rodham Clinton praised former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' ability to work with presidents of both political parties on Monday, sidestepping a passage in his new book that asserts she cast a vote on the Iraq war for political purposes.
The former secretary of state said in a speech to about 4,000 auto dealers that Gates was a "very good colleague" and her main takeaway from his new book was his respect for both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
"He ended up admiring both President Bush and President Obama and at first glance you can't think of two more different people," Clinton said. "But what he said, which I wish people would really pay attention to, is that even though they may have arrived at decisions using different processes ... he respected the way that they stepped up and made decisions, whether you agreed with them or not."
Clinton did not address a passage in the book in which Gates writes that he heard Clinton say her opposition to a 2007 troop surge in Iraq was dictated by campaign politics. In his book, "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War," Gates recalls both Obama and Clinton suggesting their opposition to the surge was based on presidential politics. "To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying."
In the book, Gates, a Republican, also praises Clinton's intelligence and pragmatism, calling her a "superb representative of the United States all over the world."
The former first lady and New York senator is considering another White House bid in 2016 and expects to make a decision later this year.
In a question-and-answer session, Clinton said her biggest regret as secretary of state was the killing of four Americans in the 2012 attacks on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. She called it "a terrible tragedy" that illustrated the challenge of protecting American civilians serving in dangerous parts of the world.
Clinton also took a drive down memory lane in remarks to the National Automobile Dealers Association convention, recalling the first car she ever bought — a 1963 Oldsmobile Cutlass for $220 — and the time her yellow Fiat was stolen in Arkansas in the 1970s and totaled in a high-speed chase.
"One of the regrets I have about my public life is that I can't drive anymore," she said. "The last time I actually drove a car myself was 1996 and I remember it very well and unfortunately so does the Secret Service."
Touching on an auto industry milestone, Clinton said she was excited that Mary Barra had become General Motors' chief executive officer, the first woman to lead a major global automaker.
"I guess you can say she broke through the steel ceiling not the glass ceiling," Clinton said.
Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas