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New Defense Chief Gates Brings Steady Hand To Pentagon

The New Defense Secretary, Robert Gates. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Nov 09, 2006
If there is one phrase that Washington insiders and CIA old timers tend to use about Robert Gates, President Bush's choice to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as U.S. secretary of defense, it is, "He's a steady hand." That quality, along with Gates' decades-long reputation for measured and sound judgment, marks the striking contrast between next Pentagon chief and his long-serving, gung-ho, combative and deeply controversial predecessor Donald Rumsfeld.

Two more different approaches to running the largest and most costly military machine on the planet and the most powerful institution in the United States government cannot possibly be imagined.

Gates has a generation of credentials as a traditional, old internationalist Republican in the mould of Dwight D. Eisenhower, James A. Baker III and George Herbert Walker Bush, under whom he served with distinction as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was famous for his respect for career professionals, for getting huge and complex institutions to run smoothly, and for providing first class strategic and operational level intelligence on a range of complex issues.

Gates is a long-time friend and respected close colleague of former Secretary of State James A. Baker. He has been serving on the Iraq Study Group that Baker has co-helmed at President George W. Bush's request with former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, the doyen of foreign policy experts among Democrats during his decades in the House of Representatives.

Baker's group has proved a lightning rod for controversy following reports that it may recommend some massive reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq over the coming years.

Gates has always had the reputation of being a cautious pragmatist rather than a bold or even reckless visionary like the man he will replace, Rumsfeld.

When Gates becomes secretary of defense, neo-conservative ideologues can look forward to the end of their six year romp through the highest circles of Pentagon power. Gates is expected to replace Stephen Cambone, the highly controversial first undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

Gates is an old CIA hand, mindful of how the CIA's highly accurate and prescient predictions of conditions that the United States would have to deal with in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein were ignored by Rumsfeld and his top officials. Therefore he may also shake out dozens of the neo-con analysts with whom Rumsfeld, his first deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, and his first under secretary of defense for policy, Douglas Feith, stuffed the Pentagon. Their assessments on virtually every major crisis that the U.S. armed forces have had to face in iraq have proven wildly wrong.

Gates will certainly look to stabilize Iraq as his first goal for that country and will abandon the last unworkable remnants of the neo-con dreams that Rumsfeld embraced of creating a stable, pro-American, Shiite-dominated democracy that would give U.S. oil interests a free hand. He will also likely seek to reduce tensions with Iran and with pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Baghdad if he can, rather than stirring them up, as Rumsfeld did almost until the day he left office with his final, unsuccessful drive to try and militarily crush the Shiite militias in Baghdad.

And just as Gates can be expected to drop Rumsfeld's favorite neo-conservative ideologues overboard, he can also be expected to encourage more candor, open debate and frank assessments from senior U.S. Army officers.

Rumsfeld may clear he did not want to hear what the generals really thought if it contradicted his own dearly held views back in 2003 when he publicly abused Gen. Eric Shinseki, then Army Chief of staff, for warning - entirely correctly as it turned out -- that hundreds of thousands more troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq than Rumsfeld was willing to provide.

As one of the most successful CIA directors in modern U.S. history, Gates can also be expected to end Rusmfeld's long Cold War against the rest of the U.S. intelligence community. Rumsfeld jealously kept the huge resources of the U.S. Department of Defense's own dozen intelligence agencies, which between them account for 80 percent of the more than $30 billion a year U.S. intelligence budget, under his sole control, and he continually blocked serious intel cooperation with the first Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte. Gates can be expected to work constructively with Negroponte and seek to energetically long-delayed inter-agency cooperation.

Gates will face an energetic new Democratic-controlled Congress eager to expose the mistakes and failures of a Bush-Rumsfeld team that shut them out and treated them with contempt for so long. Instead, Gates can be expected to seek to work constructively and cooperatively with the new masters of Congress. He is the perfect man to take on that job as he worked harmoniously with a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives through his entire tenure as CIA director.

Finally, unlike Rumsfeld, Gates can be expected to look pragmatically at the problems he inherits and the changing conditions he will face while in office. Unlike Rumsfeld, he has never been afraid of taking advice from people he disagrees with or changing his mind if the circumstances warrant.

After six years of Rusmfeld, a new wind is about to blow through the endless ring-corridors of the Pentagon.

earlier related report
Iraq Buried Rumsfeld Reputation
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst Washington (UPI) Nov 08 - Donald Rumsfeld looks certain to go down in history as one of the most important U.S. secretaries of defense, but not in the way he expected. Rumsfeld, who announced his impending resignation Wednesday, was arguably the most powerful and dynamic -- as well as the longest-serving -- secretary of defense, or SecDef, in U.S. history since the position was founded in 1947.

But he leaves behind him a war in Iraq almost universally acknowledged by senior U.S. military officers in private conversation to be unwinnable, a second war in Afghanistan that is deteriorating by the day, and threatening the entire credibility of the NATO alliance, and a metastasizing global war on terror.

Rumsfeld's finest moment in office was the one in which he was most caught by surprise. He totally failed to anticipate the threat that al-Qaida posed to the United States in the late summer of 2001. Only the day before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that killed more than 2,800 Americans, most of them in the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York City, he told a congressional delegation visiting him at the Pentagon that he would veto their attempts to move millions of dollars in the U.S. Department of Defense budget. The legislators wanted to take the funding from the science fiction super-high tech weapons that Rumsfeld loved in order to boost funding for counter-terrorism. Rumsfeld told them that wasn't a priority or a primary threat. His own Pentagon was blasted by a deliberately crashed airliner the very next day.

But when that hijacked airliner struck the Pentagon on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, Rumsfeld showed high morale, personal courage and great coolness in dealing with the immediate crisis.

Yet those moments revealed his greatest weaknesses along with his strengths. He was not analytical or reflective. He always remained rigid in his thinking. Repeatedly during his almost six years in office, he showed himself unable to admit any mistakes or take personal responsibility for past serious errors.

Time after time, he refused to listen to or respect senior officers or experts who offered any assessments that contradicted his own prejudices. He presided over the politicization of the civilian analytical echelon at the Pentagon and the muzzling of the professional candor of senior U.S. Army officers to a greater extent than any previous SecDef except, arguably, the disastrous Robert McNamara during the Vietnam War.

Iraq was the tombstone of his reputation. At every stage of the U.S. occupation of that country over the past three-and-a-half years, he revealed himself as ignorant, arrogant, complacent, hard-driving, superficial and sloppy.

He ignored the vast, meticulous scholarship of the U.S. State Department and CIA in their preparatory assessments of conditions in Iraq gathered before the U.S. and allied invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in March 2003. He sneered at genuine experts and listened to crackpots.

He publicly humiliated then U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki when the four star general warned that hundreds of thousands more American soldiers would be needed to subdue Iraq and guarantee security there.

Shinseki's warning proved prescient in every detail. But Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz responded by subjecting Shinseki to public tongue-lashings and humiliations not experienced by any senior serving U.S. Army commander since Gen. Douglas MacArthur was summarily fired by then U.S. President Harry S. Truman in 1951.

Rumsfeld's unshakable confidence and public jauntiness was backed by President George W. Bush throughout his entire term of office. It was popular with the American public for a long time too. But eventually it was widely perceived as bizarre. When 2,800 U.S. troops had died in Iraq, more than 21,000 had been seriously injured and conditions there were deteriorating by the day, Rumsfeld remained unapologetic and jaunty.

It was only after Rumsfeld's policies in Iraq cost President George W. Bush the brightest jewel in the U.S. conservative movement and the Republican Party's political crown -- the GOP's 12-year-long control of the House of Representatives -- that he was finally prevailed upon to leave office.

Ironically, had Bush emulated President Truman and fired Rumsfeld even weeks or only days before the Nov. 7 midterm congressional elections as publicly as Truman fired MacArthur, the GOP might have retained control of the U.S. Senate rather than face the prospect that it might go to the Democrats.

Rumsfeld had more success in pushing his space weapons high tech systems, especially on ballistic missile defense. But even there, his programs cost vastly more and took far longer to develop than he had repeatedly claimed they would, and their viability remained highly controversial and uncertain when he left office.

Rumsfeld presided over far vaster Pentagon budgets than any previous secretary of defense in U.S. history. Yet he left behind him a U.S. Army more demoralized and exhausted than at any time in the 34 years since President Richard Nixon, Rumsfeld's old boss and mentor, pulled U.S. ground forces out of Vietnam in 1972. Throughout his term in office, the super-confident Rumsfeld remained determined to exorcise the ghost of Vietnam from U.S. memory. Instead, he bequeathed to his successors a war that threatened to dwarf Vietnam in its potentially grave consequences.

He was always sure he would go down in history as one of the greatest U.S. secretaries of defense. Instead, he may well be remembered as one of the worst.

earlier related report
Why Rumsfeld Resigned
by Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent Washington (UPI) Nov 09 - After nearly six turbulent years U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has resigned. President George W. Bush announced Wednesday he has asked Robert Gates, the former CIA director under the current president's father, President George Herbert Walker Bush and currently the president of Texas A and M University, to replace Rumsfeld.

"Don Rumsfeld has been a superb leader during a time of change. Yet he also appreciates the value of bringing in a fresh perspective during a critical period in this war," Bush said. "Don Rumsfeld's a patriot who served our country with honor and distinction. He is a trusted adviser and a friend, and I'm deeply grateful to his service to our country."

Bush said he had been planning to replace Rumsfeld no matter how the mid-term congressional election Tuesday turned out. It ended up being a big victory for Democrats, who won control of the U.S. House of Representatives and may win control of the Senate.

"He and I both agreed in our meeting yesterday that it was appropriate that I accept his resignation. And so the decision was made," he said. "Actually, I thought we were going to do fine yesterday."

Last week Bush told reporters he had no intention of replacing Rumsfeld or Vice President Dick Cheney. But he admitted in the Wednesday press conference that, at the time, he already had preliminary discussions with Rumsfeld about his departure from the Pentagon.

The president said he endorsed Rumsfeld and Cheney's leadership as a way to change the subject. "I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign," he said. "And so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer."

With a Democratic-controlled Congress for the first time in 12 years, Rumsfeld almost certainly faced the prospect of lengthy hearings on the war in Iraq, possibly under subpoena.

The Iraq war is a central reason Rumsfeld has stepped down.

"He himself understands Iraq is not working well enough, fast enough," Bush said. "Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed that sometimes it's necessary to have a fresh perspective, and Bob Gates will bring a fresh perspective."

Pentagon officials could not say when Rumsfeld's last day in office would be, or whether Bush's announcement means Gates is already the acting defense secretary.

Rumsfeld was more cantankerous and lively than usual in his most recent press briefing at the Pentagon last week, badgering reporters about their assumptions and the wording of their questions, and telling one to retract his inaccurate question "just for the fun of it."

Rumsfeld said he had publicly predicted that Iraq's new government would assert itself against the U.S. government.

"Now we just sit back and enjoy the democracy that's there," Rumsfeld said.

Bush met with Gates on Sunday in Texas and the president apparently finalized his decision then. Rumsfeld and Bush had the final discussion about his resignation on Tuesday.

Incoming Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday at a press conference prior to Bush's announcement that Rumsfeld should be asked to resign to signal a shift in policy in Iraq.

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo. the incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, said the change in leadership "presents an important opportunity for our country to begin a new policy direction in Iraq and in the war on terrorism. I think it is critical that this change be more than just a different face on the old policy."

Bush vowed to continue the war on terror and to aid the Iraqi people, and told the military not to doubt their mission.

"America will always support you," the president said. "Our nation is blessed to have men and women who volunteer to serve and are willing to risk their own lives for the safety of our fellow citizens."

Source: United Press International

Related Links
Iraq: The first techonology war of the 21st century

Rumsfeld Pays Price For Voter Anger Over Iraq
Washington (AFP) Nov 08, 2006
US President George W. Bush announced the resignation Wednesday of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld following an election defeat of his Republican Party blamed largely on the disastrous US war in Iraq.

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