- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

11:22 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Robert Gates was sworn in today as secretary of defense at a crucial juncture in the Iraq war, a conflict that cost Donald H. Rumsfeld his job and likely will define Mr. Gates’ Pentagon tenure.

Mr. Gates took the oath of office in a private event at the White House, and later planned to attend a public swearing-in ceremony at the Pentagon, where the military brass and senior civilian officials are eager to see what changes he may bring.

When President Bush announced last month that he was switching Pentagon chiefs, he said he wanted “fresh perspective” on Iraq, acknowledging the current approach was not working well enough. Mr. Rumsfeld, who was lauded by Mr. Bush at a farewell ceremony on Friday, was a chief architect of the war strategy and still defends the decision to invade in March 2003.

Mr. Gates, 63, takes office amid a wide-ranging administration review of its approach to the war. Mr. Bush said last week that he would wait until January to announce his new strategy, to give Mr. Gates a chance to offer advice.

Besides the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Gates faces other immediate challenges. One is the Army’s proposal that it be allowed to grow by tens of thousands of soldiers, given the strains it is enduring from the two wars. Mr. Rumsfeld had resisted increasing the size of the Army or the Marine Corps; Mr. Gates’ view is unknown.

Mr. Gates said at his Senate confirmation hearing Dec. 5 that he intends to travel to Iraq “very soon” after being sworn in, so he could consult with senior U.S. commanders about how to adjust U.S. strategy. He also raises some eyebrows by saying, when asked whether the U.S. was winning in Iraq, “No, sir.”

It’s not yet clear whether Mr. Gates intends to immediately shake up the Pentagon by firing generals or replacing senior civilian officials. He has asked Gordon England, the deputy defense secretary, to remain, but some have already announced their departures, including the top intelligence official, Stephen Cambone.

Mr. Gates, who had been president of Texas A&M; University since 2002, completed his tenure over the weekend by attending three commencement ceremonies on the College Station campus.

“Like all of you, I’m starting a new phase of my life after this commencement ceremony,” he told the crowd after presenting the last diploma on Saturday. “Like all of you, this very special place has changed my life.”

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