Bobby Inman: Gates Will Seek Consensus on Iraq

Retired Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, pictured here in 1991

Retired Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, pictured here in 1991, was President Clinton's first choice to succeed Les Aspin as Secretary of Defense. He withdrew his name from consideration a week before his confirmation hearing, however, complaining of a "conspiracy" by neoconservative pundit William Safire and then-Sen. Bob Dole to smear his name and character. Bob Daemmrich/Corbis/Sygma hide caption

itoggle caption Bob Daemmrich/Corbis/Sygma

A longtime colleague of Secretary of Defense nominee Robert Gates predicts the former CIA chief will seek to build a consensus among Persian Gulf neighbors — including Syria and Iran — on how to handle a deteriorating and dangerous situation in Iraq.

And Bobby Ray Inman — a retired admiral and intelligence community veteran who has worked with Gates for more than three decades — says he firmly believes Gates has change in mind.

"I'm comfortable he wouldn't be going into the job unless he had the president's assurances for supporting new policies," Inman told Madeleine Brand.

Gates has served as a member of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III charged with making recommendations on policy.

"So he's obviously been very involved in putting together their ideas of how we should change direction [in Iraq]," Inman says. "He will already have ideas to implement."

In contrast to resigning Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has a reputation for stubbornly pursuing his own course, Inman says Gates will work with the National Security Council on the best way to proceed in Iraq.

"But he'll also make decisions, and he'll make it very clear he expects people to support those decisions," Inman says. "He will be a strong participant at the National Security Council level in making decisions — but the president makes the final decision."

During his 26-year career in the intelligence field, Gates spent almost nine years on the National Security Council, serving four presidents of both major political parties. Gates served as CIA chief under President George H.W. Bush, but only after a bruising battle in the Senate where he was accused of manipulating intelligence data to fit the foreign-policy objectives of the Reagan administration

Inman says the timing is right for a change at the Pentagon, and applauds the president's choice to follow Rumsfeld.

"[Gates] is a very thoughtful student of international relations," Inman says. "What he reminds me of is President Johnson turning to Clark Clifford [a longtime adviser to Democratic presidents] to replace [Robert] McNamara" as the Vietnam War raged.

At his 1968 confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Clifford said the main U.S. objective in Vietnam was not to defeat the Viet Cong, but to guarantee the right of self-determination to South Vietnamese.

After his short tenure in office, he said in 1969 that peace in Vietnam could not be achieved militarily, and he advocated the gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces.

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Robert M. Gates, President Bush's choice to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary, is an old ally of the president's father and a veteran of Capitol Hill political wars.

Now president of Texas A&M University, Gates served as CIA chief under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993, during the first Iraq war. After one of the most contentious confirmation processes on record, Gates' nomination was passed by a 64-to-31 vote.

Even so, experts say Gates is well regarded in Washington intelligence and military circles. He is also known as a longtime friend of the Bush family.

This is at least the second attempt by to bring Gates into the current Bush administration. Gates was said to be the first choice for the new position of national intelligence director. He turned it down.

Gates, 63, is also a member of the Iraq Working Group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, another Bush family loyalist, and former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton (R-IN). President Bush appointed the bipartisan group to make recommendations on Iraq strategy.

William Webster, former head of the CIA and FBI, says Gates is a "consensus builder."

"He's been there before, but he comes without any context on the issues that have been debated in the election. That's a good thing," Webster says.

He also notes that as a member of the Baker panel, Gates will bring perspective on the issues facing the administration on Iraq.

Retired Maj. Gen. Mike Davidson, former assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, notes that Gates is respected among military officers. Gates served in the Air Force during the Vietnam era, but does not have extensive military experience.

Davidson says Gates' priority will be to provide a channel for the recommendations of the Baker panel.

"You needed a new set of eyes to come in and look at the strategy. Gates is the new set of eyes," Davidson says.

Webster, the former CIA head, says of Gates: "I know him as a man of exceptional character, someone who headed the Eagle Scouts nationally. He's an educator, bright, with a lot of qualities that will help carry us forward, including the ability to attract consensus and get information."

A native of Kansas, Gates spent nearly 27 years with the Central Intelligence Agency, which he joined in 1966. He is the only career officer in the agency's history to rise from entry-level employee to director.

Prior to taking the top spot at the CIA, Gates served as the agency's deputy director and as deputy to Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President H.W. Bush.

Gates has served six presidents, of both parties, and spent nearly nine years at the National Security Council.

Author of the 1996 memoir From the Shadows, Gates is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. He received his master's degree in history from Indiana University and his doctorate in Russian and Soviet history from Georgetown University.

Since leaving the CIA, Gates has often weighed in on U.S. policy and security. Excerpts from some of his speeches and articles are below:

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