NPR logo

Robert Gates, from a Colleague's Viewpoint

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Robert Gates, from a Colleague's Viewpoint


Robert Gates, from a Colleague's Viewpoint

Robert Gates, from a Colleague's Viewpoint

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Melissa Block talks with Ken Pollack, senior fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. Pollack worked with Robert Gates at the CIA and NSC, and will talk with us about what kind of Secretary of Defense he may make.


Ken Pollack worked under Robert Gates at the CIA and the National Security Council. He joins us from the Brookings Institution, where he's a senior fellow. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. KEN POLLACK (Brookings Institution): My pleasure, Melissa.

BLOCK: And how would you describe Robert Gates's thinking on intelligence and foreign policy, and in particular how his approach might differ from that of Donald Rumsfeld?

Mr. POLLACK: Well, what we've seen from Bob Gates when he's been in senior positions is that he has tended to be very realistic, very focused on the reality of the situation, an extremely competent bureaucratic manager, someone who is not afraid to ask hard questions, and someone who is willing to go where those hard questions lead him.

BLOCK: Do you think that in bringing someone over from the intelligence world to the Pentagon, does that in some way shape the direction of what might happen there?

Mr. POLLACK: It's entirely possible. I think we have to assume that Mr. Gates asked President Bush for a very clear, explicit statement that the president would be willing to make significant changes if Mr. Gates found that those changes were necessary. Bob Gates is not someone who has sought out the public spotlight since he has retired from government. He is not someone who has avidly clamored for jobs.

In fact, there are some pretty extensive rumors to suggest that he had been asked to take the job currently occupied by John Negroponte, the director of National Intelligence, but had turned down that role because, quite frankly, it wasn't really to his liking.

So the idea that Bob Gates would be coming back to government and coming back at this crucial moment, at a time when taking over the responsibilities of the secretary of defense can only be seen as a Herculean if not a sisyphean task, suggests that Mr. Gates secured beforehand some commitments from President Bush that he really would be open to making changes.

And therefore, I think that we have to expect that Mr. Gates is going to come in, he's going to be willing to look at all these things fresh. As you pointed out, he is a member of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, where he's been looking hard at Iraq. And I think that we have to assume that he really is going to look at things from first, principles, and that he may recommend to President Bush some very dramatic changes in direction.

BLOCK: He was, of course, in the first Bush administration during the first Gulf War. Do you think that his thinking might be affected by the thinking of the first President Bush and how that conflict was handled?

Mr. POLLACK: Again, it's entirely possible, although I think this is one of the enticing things out there. As I said, Bob Gates is not someone who has sought the spotlight since he left government. He's someone whose views on Iraq aren't very well known. Quite frankly, I don't think that too many people other than Mr. Gates really know how he feels about Iraq, whether he was in favor of the war or opposed to it, where exactly he stands on this matter. And so as a result, I don't think that any of us really knows where he thinks.

Obviously, he is a member of the Baker-Hamilton Commission. They were asked to look at this from first, principles. To look at Iraq from head to toe and to decide what the best course of action is. And as you've suggested, he is very closely tied to President Bush 41's administration. He is a protégé of Brent Scowcroft and obviously, Brent Scowcroft has been a pretty fierce critic of the Iraq war.

So it is possible that Mr. Gates thinks along similar lines. But Mr. Gates is a very bright person who was known for keeping his own counsel, so I don't think that we should just automatically assume that what he is bringing to office is necessarily the perspective of either James Baker or Brent Scowcroft, although I think there's no question that his thinking will be informed by both their views and, as you point out, by his own experience during the first Gulf War.

BLOCK: You mentioned earlier his management style. How would you describe his style and management at the CIA and at the NSC?

Mr. POLLACK: Very effective. Bob Gates is a consummate bureaucrat, and I use that word in the best sense. He is someone who understood how to manage people. He is someone who understood how to manage a bureaucratic process. I think I and many other people who've served in the U.S. government in the last 15 or 20 years believe that the process that Mr. Gates and General Scowcroft ran under the first President Bush was about as efficient as government gets.

BLOCK: Kenneth Pollack, thanks very much.

Mr. POLLACK: Thank you.

BLOCK: Kenneth Pollack is a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution here in Washington.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Robert Gates Nominated as Defense Secretary

NPR's Coverage of Bush Press Conference

Only Available in Archive Formats.

Q&A: Who Is Robert Gates?

In His Own Words

Responding to Terrorism

Only Available in Archive Formats.

- from Weekend Edition Saturday, May 18, 2002

'Frontline' from PBS

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: