Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Former CIA Director Robert M. Gates, President Bush’s choice to be the new defense secretary, is a retired career intelligence analyst with little experience in military and defense affairs.

If confirmed by the Senate, the university president will take over the Pentagon at a time when U.S. troops are fighting the global war against terrorism, with its most visible and costly battlefront in Iraq.

Mr. Bush, introducing his nominee yesterday, said Mr. Gates “will provide the department with a fresh perspective and new ideas on how America can achieve our goals in Iraq.”

Mr. Gates said: “The United States is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are fighting against terrorism worldwide, and we face other serious challenges to peace and our security. I believe the outcome of these conflicts will shape our world for decades to come.”

Noting that long-term U.S. strategic interests and security are at risk and U.S. armed forces are in harm’s way, Mr. Gates said he did not hesitate to accept Mr. Bush’s request to take the Pentagon post.

Iraq looms large in his new position and remains a major focus of political and other critics, including some in the U.S. military and especially the Army who oppose current strategy and tactics, but who have offered few alternatives.

Mr. Gates, 63, currently is part of a special review panel on Iraq headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, Indiana Democrat. The panel is expected to present recommendations soon for sharply revamping the current policy on the Iraq counterinsurgency campaign.

An aide to former President George H.W. Bush, on whose National Security Council staff he served, Mr. Gates is currently president of Texas A&M University, a position he has held since 2002. Before that he headed the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M from 1999 to 2001.

Little is known of Mr. Gates’ views on defense and military affairs, other than that he initiated a reform effort to increase intelligence support to the military after shortcomings were found after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He spent two years as an Air Force intelligence officer from 1966 to 1968, and his career in intelligence focused on the Soviet Union.

He is expected to bring new defense and military policies to the Bush administration that likely will be more moderate than the generally conservative Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, whom he would replace. Based on recent public statements, he is also likely to favor intelligence-based solutions over military ones. By contrast, Mr. Rumsfeld has been a longtime skeptic of U.S. intelligence capabilities, often referring to intelligence products as incomplete or inadequate.

Mr. Gates, as co-chairman of a recent Council on Foreign Relations task force on Iran, stated that forcing regime change in Iran without military action is “highly unlikely” to succeed, and that military action also will not work because of U.S. commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The former CIA chief said he favors a policy of “engagement” with Iran on its refusal to abide by international agreements on its nuclear program.

He said in a speech last year that U.S. intelligence agencies had been unfairly criticized for failures, such as those related to the September 11 attacks and Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Intelligence during the Cold War played an auxiliary role, but is a main element of the war on terrorism and is also more difficult, Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Gates’ intelligence career and views were examined in detail during a contentious Senate nomination battle in 1991 for his CIA directorship, which he held from 1991 to 1993. He joined the CIA in 1966. From 1989 to 1991, he was deputy national security adviser in the White House National Security Council.

Senate hearings on the matter revealed Mr. Gates as a seasoned if clean-cut bureaucrat, a view confirmed by his 1996 memoir, “From the Shadows,” which revealed his bureaucrat-spy career under five presidents.

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