- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has agreed to remain at his post if asked by President-elect Barack Obama, sources close to the defense chief told The Washington Times.

Mr. Obama has also settled on the Republican defense secretary as his choice for the post, the Associated Press reported.

Mr. Gates has won bipartisan praise on Capitol Hill for the reduction of violence in Iraq and for his overall management of the Pentagon.

He would be in a position to help lead a smooth transition between administrations at a time when the United States is preparing to withdraw forces from Iraq and send additional troops to battle a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

His selection would also allow the incoming president to concentrate on the financial crisis without having to worry about upheaval at the Pentagon.

Mr. Obama reportedly made the decision to ask Mr. Gates to stay for at least the first year. The announcement was expected after the Thanksgiving holiday.

“It’s a done deal,” ABC reported Tuesday, citing a source close to the decision-making process.

Officials in the Obama transition team said they could not immediately confirm the reports.

However, sources close to Mr. Gates told The Times that the defense secretary had made the decision several weeks earlier to remain if asked.

“President Obama is going to inherit two wars and uncertain times,” said one U.S. military officer on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

“He is respected by both political parties, and it will be necessary to keep focus on what’s important. Replacing him could throw everything out of balance,” the officer said.

Afghanistan has emerged as a major setback in the war on terrorism, with the Taliban seizing vast swaths of the country and surrounding the capital, Kabul.

The threat of terrorist attacks against U.S. targets also remains high, with al Qaeda having established a sanctuary in lawless areas of Pakistan.

Mr. Gates, a moderate Republican with close ties to President George H.W. Bush, has served as defense secretary for the past two years.

His continued service would fulfill a campaign pledge by Mr. Obama to have at least one Republican in his Cabinet.

Mr. Obama has also chosen retired Marine Gen. James Jones as his national security adviser, the AP reported.

Mr. Gates has run the Pentagon since December 2006, when he gave up his post as president of Texas A&M; University, where the former president has his presidential library.

He replaced Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at a time when Iraq appeared to have degenerated into a civil war between rival Shi’ites and Sunnis.

A career intelligence officer, Mr. Gates climbed the ranks of the CIA to the post of deputy director during the Reagan administration.

In 1987, he became acting head of the agency when terminal brain cancer sidelined then-director William Casey.

Two years later, he became CIA chief in the first Bush administration.

Mr. Gates was also part of the 2006 Iraq Study Group led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, Indiana Democrat.

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