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The Many Faces Of Robert Gates

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by Vladimir Simonov
Moscow (UPI) Dec 20, 2006
Robert Gates has been through fire and water. He took part in the first Gulf war, helped deal with the hostage crises in Iran when the United States suffered a shameful fiasco, and celebrated the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan at the CIA headquarters in Langley.

The day before yesterday, Gates, who ran the CIA from 1991-1993, was sworn in as U.S. defense secretary. He was not appointed by the U.S. president, but was chosen by the war in Iraq.

The link is clear. The failure of the U.S. five-year-long military campaign in Iraq has compelled the U.S. electors to put the Democrats in the majority in both chambers of Congress. A day later, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld quietly resigned his portfolio. After one more day, George W. Bush looked around, and decided to go for Robert Gates, whom his father had applauded more than once.

At the time, Gates was president of Texas A&M University, one of the nation's biggest, and, importantly, took part in the James Baker-led bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which was working on recommendations of how America could get away from the Iraqi hell without losing face.

The group's report, published later, admitted that the U.S. policy in Iraq "is not working." Its authors, including Gates, suggested withdrawing troops in early 2008, and involving Syria and Iraq itself in undoing the Iraqi knot.

As a result, at the Senate hearings on his endorsement, Robert Gates embodied a more realistic, "gentle" foreign policy on what is the worst sore for the United States -- Iraq. In other words, he was the opposite to his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld, and another recent retiree, John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Idealists were bound to develop the illusion that pax Americana enthusiasts were losing ground in the U.S. administration, being ousted by more tolerant people like Robert Gates, who are more perceptive of world public opinion.

He reaffirmed this impression by saying at his confirmation hearings that the United States was not winning in Iraq, which caused quite a sensation. Gates promised to start his new job with a blitz visit to Baghdad. He wants to hear the honest opinions of top officers on what to do about Iraq.

The timing could not be worse. The Pentagon has just acknowledged in its report that the number of attacks on American and Iraqi government troops has skyrocketed to one thousand per week, the absolute record high since Iraq has proclaimed its puppet sovereignty two years ago.

But Gates still wants to go and find out everything on the spot.

It seems that this craving for jumping into the Iraqi boiling pot has done something to the secretary; his tone has changed markedly from reasonable discourse and readiness to listen to the advice of others to a categorically offensive attitude, which was so typical of Rumsfeld. After taking the oath in the Pentagon auditorium, Gates said that all Americans wanted to find a way to get their sons and daughters home, but continued as follows: "We simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come."

After this splash of patriotism, Gates is unlikely to follow the recommendations of the Baker Study Group on U.S. troop withdrawal, which he had himself signed.

The new defense secretary is a brilliant government high ranker. One of his major merits is a surprising flexibility, which has helped him climb the ladder throughout his outstanding career. He is indeed a man of many faces.

Robert Gates is the only American to have traversed the road from an intelligence field officer to the CIA director. He has managed to stay at the top under six presidents, including such different figures as George Bush senior and Ronald Reagan.

Reagan had to withdraw Gates' nomination as the CIA chief because of his clear involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair. As CIA acting director in 1982-1986, Gates was bound to know all about secret diversion of funds received from sales of arms to Iran to the contras, who were trying to topple the Leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Transfer of money was absolutely illegal. Gates deliberately transgressed on U.S. laws. But in 1991, he managed to get out of the scandal without a single spot on his uniform. This is probably the best possible evidence of his fantastic ability to adapt to reality.

Gates has already started demonstrating his rare talent. He understands perfectly well that academic studies like the Baker report are one thing, and White House policy is quite another. He will now have to carry Rumsfeld's burden, and present a revised strategy of the war in Iraq to the same Vice President Dick Cheney. This good old neo-conservative has kept his position. Gates will have to support the failing Bush in the only possible way -- by continued attempts to convince the Americans that it makes sense to fight the war in Iraq to the end.

Gates will have to do many other things. He will have to do the job of his predecessor.

Will we see a gradual but consistent transformation of newcomer Gates into the so familiar Donald Rumsfeld? At any rate, Washington has just heard the news -- the United States is sending another 25,000 Marines to Iraq against all this ballyhoo about the "revised strategy." Apparently, America has underrated the flexibility of the new man in the Pentagon.

(Vladimir Simonov is a political commentator at RIA Novosti. This article was reprinted with permission from the news agency.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interest of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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Iraq: The first techonology war of the 21st century

The Other Iraq Report
Washington (UPI) Dec 20, 2006
A new report published Monday documents grim confirmation of the most pessimistic assessments we have made in these columns over the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq during the past 10 months.

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