Gates' Government Experience Runs Deep

Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is the man President Bush has nominated to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Gates' career in intelligence stretches back four decades. He has served under six previous presidents.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The man named to replace Donald Rumsfeld is Robert Gates. He's a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and NPR's Michele Kelemen has a profile of the nominee.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Robert Gate's career in Intelligence stretches back four decades. He served under six previous presidents, and President Bush says he needs Gates now to advise him on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: In this time of war the president relies on the secretary of defense to provide military advice and direct our nation's armed forces as they engage our enemies across the world. Secretary of defense must be a man of vision who can see threats still over the horizon and prepare our nation to meet them. Bob Gates is the right man to meet both of these critical challenges.

KELEMEN: Gates was deputy director of Central Intelligence when Soviet forces occupied Afghanistan, and President Bush says he values that regional expertise. During the Persian Gulf War Gates was deputy national security adviser, and is now a part of a commission assessing the war in Iraq. The 63-year-old Kansas native turned down the president's previous job offer to be the director of National Intelligence. But he says he's willing to return to government service to run the Pentagon, because he's concerned about Iraq and Afghanistan, even if it will mean leaving what he called his best job yet, president of Texas A and M University.

Mr. RICHARD GATES (New Secretary of Defense): I believe the outcome of these conflicts will shape our world for decades to come. Because our long-term strategic interests and our national and homeland security are at risk, because so many of America's sons and daughters in our armed forces are in harm's way, I did not hesitate when the president asked me to return to duty.

KELEMEN: The chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, Republican John Warner, commended President Bush for choosing Robert Gates, who he described as a good student, calm and tempered. Warner said the confirmation process should begin soon. Former CIA analyst Larry Johnson is among those calling on Congress to take a close look at Gates' record and reputation.

Mr. LARRY JOHNSON (Former CIA Analyst): One of the real problems with the Bush administration, relative to the war in Iraq, was the charge of the politicization of intelligence. And unfortunately for Mr. Gates he was involved with politicizing intelligence back in the 1980s.

KELEMEN: Several CIA analysts came out against Gates during his confirmation hearings to become CIA director, accusing him of slanting intelligence involving the Soviet Union and Soviet expansionism. But others who have worked with him say that's old news, that Gates learned the value of good intelligence when he worked at the White House under the previous President Bush.

Rand Beers was on the national security staff at the times and recalls working with Gates on terrorism issues and the war on drugs.

Mr. RAND BEERS (Former National Security Staffer): He skillfully shepherded those issues through the bureaucracy when there wasn't always the uniformity of view.

KELEMEN: Beers, who now runs the National Security Network, describes Gates as a conservative Republican, much like his former boss, Brent Scowcroft.

Mr. BEERS: He was part of the very-squarely-in-the-realest-camp group of people who were part of the first Bush administration.

KELEMEN: And that is what is giving some analysts in Washington hope that Gates could help the Bush administration change course in Iraq. Many are questioning whether he has the managerial skills to run the Pentagon, but few doubt his diplomatic skills, which will also be crucial.

James Clad is a professor of Near East and South Asian Studies at the National Defense University. He was a reporter back in 1990 and remembers how former President Bush sent Gates and another top official to cool off a crisis between India and Pakistan.

Professor JAMES CLAD (National Defense University): Watching these two envoys arrive at a very, very dark and very gloomy moment, when people were being evacuated from two cities because of a real fear that the drumbeat of war was going to lead to a nuclear exchange. And to watch them, in tandem with other things too, help diffuse that situation, I think is an admirable thing.

It's about using the power and the resources, the influence of the United States, to best effect.

KELEMEN: Clad says he can only hope that Gates has built up those skills, which he will need to tackle the many security challenges facing the U.S. today, both in South Asia and the Middle East.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: Now since leaving the CIA, Robert Gates has often weighed in on U.S. policy and security. Occasionally his statements appear to put him at odds with the Bush administration, which he is about to join. You can read and hear what he said about responding to terrorism, U.S./Iran policy and the role of intelligence at NPR.org.

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