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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The day after the midterm elections, President Bush abruptly dismissed Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld and nominated Robert Gates as his replacement. Gates rose from an entry-level job at the CIA to become director of Central Intelligence in 1991. He also served the first President Bush as deputy national security adviser.

Now 63, Gates left Washington to become president of Texas A&M University but spent part of the past six months as a member of the Iraq Study Group debating new approaches to a war gone bad. Gate's confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is set to begin next Tuesday, one day as it happens before the Iraq Study Group presents its recommendations to the president, to Congress and to the American people.

There are questions for Robert Gates that arise from his past. Did he politicize Intelligence to accord with White House policy for example, and questions about the future? More troops in Iraq, fewer different kinds of troops, should we talk with Syria and Iran?

Later in the program, the best holiday movies of all time. You can e-mail us a nominee and a brief reason, the address is talk@npr.org. But first, questions for Robert Gates. What would you ask him if you could? Our number is 800-989-8255 that's 800-989-TALK and our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And we begin with Michael Duffy, assistant managing editor of Time Magazine. He's with us here in studio 3A. Good to see you again, Michael.

Mr. MICHAEL DUFFY (Time Magazine): Good to see you, Neal.

CONAN: And Mr. Gates has given at least some answers in a preliminary form, written answers to written questions to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will grill him on Tuesday.

Mr. DUFFY: Right several scores of pages. I think it's 70 or 80 pages of answers. It's fairly typical ritual before nomination, and he - there are some clues. They can be red in a lot of different ways. He talks in those answers about opening a dialogue with some countries around Iraq including Syria but particularly Iran, which he has done previous work on that has not been in the administration policy.

He suggests in those answers that he would have done the post war, the post invasion very differently, but he notes that that's with advantage of hindsight. And I think he also suggests at different places in his answers that there are no easy ways out here. And he does not seem to be under any illusions about how difficult this is and that was underscored, of course, in the events of the last couple of days.

CONAN: What was his role in the Iraq Study Group? That's of course the group headed by former secretary of state, Baker and the Democratic congressman - former Democratic congressman from Indiana, Lee Hamilton.

Mr. DUFFY: It's one of the advantages, I think of - at the moment that the country has that Gates was on this study group. He was involved particularly in the military end of the conversations. He sort of was part of the - a head of that little in-group within a group, Neal.

So he knows, more than anyone else I suppose - except the other members - the origins of the proposals that are being essentially announced next week. He may in fact play a fairly good role in making them happen. They won't be new to him; he'll know the pluses and minuses of them, instinctively.

CONAN: Let me ask you also a political question. Robert Gates has been vetted by the United States Senate for many jobs in the past unless there's some remarkable change in his personal situation. That's not likely to do - disqualify him, and on the other basis of, in terms of his qualifications, the Senate seems ready to confirm him.

Mr. DUFFY: I think they might confirm, you know, a potted plant in order to get, you know, to move Don Rumsfeld out. But I think Gates has, you know, does have advantages - he's been before, a committee before. He will get grilled. There will be lots of questions about his record and it could go on for a day or more. But I do think he will be confirmed.

CONAN: Okay. Now, about the Iraq Study Group proposals, I mean this is now scheduled to come out next week. Today the New York Times published a report that says there's going to be a call for a gradual pullback. Today, we have Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki telling ABC News we're ready here in Iraq to take over in June 2007.

Mr. DUFFY: Right. And they're also called for the kind of regional talks that Gates was answering. I think we're going to see more, if not all, of the details of this report come out over the next several days. I think the overnight reports are really just the first round. By the time we get to next Wednesday, we're all going to be quite conversant in almost everything, I think, that is in this 100-page document.

CONAN: Is there any indication that Robert Gates is likely to take issue with the White House, with the president on issues, for example of talking with Iran and Syria?

Mr. DUFFY: Well, he's going to be working for President Bush and I think secretaries of defense, no matter where they come from, or who they work for inevitably work for the guy at the top. And I suspect even Bob Gates is going to take his orders from the White House.

CONAN: Has he the reputation of an independent man or is he somebody who salutes, says yes sir and fills the job?

Mr. DUFFY: Well, he's worked for 5 different presidents, from different parties in different functions. A lot of people in Washington are placing all kinds of hopes in Bob Gates right now. The New York Times want him to be one of them. The New Realists want him to be one of them. It's a little hard to know what he's going to turn out to be. I think Gates, if he read, you know, heard all these comments, he would say, it's all true. I've been on all sides to some of these issues but it's a brand new ballgame now.

CONAN: And you described him in a piece you wrote as a person who believes himself to be a transformational figure. What did you mean by that? What does he mean by that?

Mr. DUFFY: I think what he would say is that in the most recent two jobs that he's had about running the CIA in the early 1990s and then the Texas A&M as president. He has tried to shake those institutions up. At a time when neither of them wanted to be shook up and he made some progress, not as much as he would have liked at both places. But he sees himself very much as someone who likes to do that and is capable of it.

CONAN: What questions do you have for Robert Gates? If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a phone call, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is

Let's begin Luis, Luis calling us from Unica, New York.

LUIS (Caller): Yes. Can you hear me?

CONAN: Yes. You're on the air.

LUIS: I'll keep this within 30 seconds. The overarching question that I would pose to him has to do with the concept of Unitarian authority that has been propounded by the Bush administration in which the executive seems to be thinking that they have the authority not only to appoint but to dictate after the appointment has been made. The conduct of other officials within the Executive Branch and therefore could potentially authorize misleading conduct so the question would be, what his view is of this concept of Unitarian authority of the executive.

CONAN: Usually referred to Michael Duffy's unitary authority of the president. And I'm not sure it applies that closely to the Department of Defense, which of course, a cabinet position and a secretary of defense appointed by the president.

Mr. DUFFY: I think they're all kinds of theories that might be applied but I think any defense secretary going forward as well as the present. The only way they're going to be successful in the final two years of this administration is that they work closely with the Congress particularly on Iraq. There is much more, I think, whatever they may be saying in public today and tomorrow, I think this is going to be much more of a partnership if its going to be able to succeed. And I don't think they want to talk about that theory but I think it is the reality.

CONAN: Luis, thanks very much for the call.

LUIS: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get another voice into the conversation. Joining us now is retired lieutenant general William Odom, formerly the chief of the NSA, the National Security Agency from 1985 to 1998, and he's been kind enough to join us here in studio 3A. Here's currently a senior fellow at the Hudson's Institute. General, good to see you again.

Lieutenant General WILLIAM ODOM (Hudson Institute): Thank you.

CONAN: What questions would you have for Robert Gates?

General ODOM: Well the question I would most like to have the answer to - he probably can't give a candid answer at this point - and that's how convinced he is that we have to out of Iraq and get out pretty soon? And whether or not he recognizes that as long as we're there we're so paralyzed that we're not going to make progress on anything else?

CONAN: So you immediately want to take him into executive session and get him (unintelligible).

General ODOM: Well there are some other questions that I would put to him and I would expect to get an open answer. If anything has been demonstrated about our poor structure by the Iraq war is that we're far too heavy in maritime forces and to sort on land and tactical air forces. And I would want to know if he's willing to address that balance. There's never been a better time to do it because I think the Congress has at last recognized that and they might well be willing to vote for it.

In the past, the lobbies for the maritime forces have been able to prevent that. I would also like to know his view on Iran and the non-proliferation policies because it seems to me, rather unambiguously the case that we pursue non-proliferation in a way that accelerates non-proliferation rather than achieves it, both in the case of North Korea and Iran.

CONAN: Accelerates proliferation is what you mean?

General ODOM: Yes. I mean, our threats of the use of sticks, regime change, etc., has caused both of those states to want nuclear weapons in the worst way so they can deter us from using those sticks, and I'd like to see some flexibility on that from him. And I think he would probably say yes, I am going to be flexible on that. Given what we know, he's been willing to sign his name to (unintelligible) relations report on Iran.

CONAN: As you look at his record - obviously, we tend to think at this moment of the secretary of defense and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are other issues at the Pentagon: billions of dollars in appropriations, what kind of future for us it's going to be.

General ODOM: That's right. You can ask him about a lot of those. Another structural issue that I would raise in this connection is whether or not he will follow the redeployment plans that Rumsfeld's initiated, which essentially denude Europe of land forces.

And if we do that, NATO will not train up these new member forces very well. The alliance will become more and more an empty shell, which it is approaching today, and unless he's willing to take that on, I see the Atlantic Alliance in severe peril. I think we're also risking trimming down the forces and moving them back in the Far East from Korea. So I would want to know on those two fronts, too.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a quick question in. This is Chuck in San Francisco.

CHUCK (Caller): Thanks very much. I was wondering - or a question I would love to hear the new secretary answer would be whether he thinks it's appropriate that the military seems to be getting tacked with almost a nation building mission along with the traditional military mission in Iraq, and it seems like, you know, there's a kind of a political economic reconstruction almost diplomatic dimension of the job they're having to do out there and if that's appropriate and if so, if they're getting the training they need to be able to do it.

CONAN: Yeah, the army is being trained now for counterinsurgency and for nation building as Chuck suggests.

General ODOM: Well, could I respond to that?

CONAN: Yes, please.

General ODOM: The idea that the army not do that kind of activity is new, and in all of its years of experience throughout the whole of the 19th Century - that kind of activity nation building, governing local areas that they had recently conquered or taken under authority was a major part of their activity. There was a civil affairs - civil government element - when we invaded Mexico - 1845 and 46. We had a civil affairs operation in Pyongyang, North Korea in the fall of 1950.

It's become a fad that starts, I think back under the Clinton administration, and it's been really taken up by this administration to be against it.

CONAN: Chuck, thanks very much for the call. We're going to continue with questions you would ask Robert Gates if you could. We'll talk more with Michael Duffy from Time magazine and with retired general, Lieutenant General William Odom when we come back. Also, Melvin Goodman will join us with some questions of his own.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Later this hour we'll read some of your nominees for best holiday movies of all time. If you have a suggestion, e-mail us now. Give us a short reason why. The address is talk@npr.org. Stay with us, it's coming up later this hour.

Right now we're talking about Robert Gates, the man selected by President Bush to replace secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld. Gates faces confirmation hearings and plenty of questions during his confirmation hearings next week. Today, what question would you ask Robert Gates? Our guests are Michael Duffy, assistant managing editor at Time magazine. Also still with us, army Lieutenant General William Odom, retired. He served as director of the National Security Agency. He's now with the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. If you'd like to join the conversation: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

And General Odom, you worked in intelligence. Robert Gates worked in intelligence. The CIA has a very different culture than that of the Pentagon. Is he the right man for the job?

General ODOM: I think he is. In fact, it's hard to come up with a better choice among those that would be available and acceptable to this administration. And I've known him for a long time and I've seen him mature. I know that he's turned down a couple of jobs that this administration has begged him to take, so you can't accuse him of now having excessive case of Potomac fever and just wanting a job.

And I think his sense of history probably has already made him remember Clark Clifford's role in the Johnson administration. He came in and replaced Secretary McNamara and quietly behind the scenes began to turn the war around in a big way in Vietnam, a war that was not in our interest but we pursued it anyway and that's, I think, very (unintelligible) of the situation today.

So, I think he will bring that viewpoint, and if he wants a place in history he'll try to play that role. The real question I would have about him is - and for anybody - can he work in a way that convinces the president that he has to reverse a policy that is turning out to be the biggest disaster in American history, but a policy in which this man has so firmly harnessed his horse that it's very difficult to see him emotionally, psychologically being willing to accept that kind of a change. I think that's the real challenge that Gates faces.

He has a little advantage in that he's close to Baker and to the father of the present president, so he can't be just seen as a personal enemy or one who would easily turn into a personal enemy and a mistrustful person of the president.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Bill. Bill calling from Idaho.

BILL (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

BILL: My question for Mr. Gates would be how he plans to fix what appears to me to be a staffing emergency in our military and make it so that we can have our reserves on reserve and have our national guard available for domestic emergencies.

CONAN: The situation, Michael Duffy, of the National Guard and the reserves is becoming more and more of a hot-button issue here in Washington, D.C.

Mr. MICHAEL DUFFY: Last week or two weeks ago, General Abizaid, the CENTCOM commander, was asked on Capitol Hill repeatedly: Could he send - could we send more troops if we decided to do that? And Abizaid said, repeatedly, though a bit sotto voce, I simply don't have them. I don't have any I can send. I can send them for a while but I can't keep them there for very long. I think he was talking months, certainly not years.

CONAN: And there was a proposal floated to send three battalions of combat engineers to Baghdad, but nobody's mentioning where those battalions may come from.

Mr. DUFFY: Yeah, they may actually send a few more to train and redirect some of the troops that they have into training purposes and away from combat. I think also the Baker Plan anticipates some of that. But there's simply is no bench left without seriously degrading readiness and rotation levels, which are important.

CONAN: Bill, thanks very much for the call.

Here's an e-mail we got from Paul in Columbus, Ohio: I would simply ask Mr. Gates to give his definition of success and what the practical affects on the ground in Iraq would be as a result of that success. And success - these words, General Odom, success, victory, stay the course - that's already been expunged from the president's lexicon, but also civil war - all of these taking on enormous symbolic freight here in Washington.

General ODOM: The most I think you can achieve in Iraq with any surety is to pull out your troops. I don't think there's any way to prevent a lot of the untoward things happening which were foreseeable and which the president and his cabinet officials have said they were not going to allow to happen. Those were going to happen no matter how long we stayed. So I'd say the best measure is whether he can get our troops out without taking a lot of casualties, without falling into warfare and having to fight their way out, much the way we did in the last days in Vietnam.

CONAN: As you look at his job ahead, are there areas on which - very experienced men - but are there areas in which he's going to have to play him some catch-up ball?

General ODOM: I think he will depend heavily on the chairman of the joint chiefs, the joint chiefs and the commanders in the field. That's the wisest thing for him to do. They have the most experience now, and I'd say the record thus far shows they've been more prudent in their behavior than the civilian leadership, and he'll have to re-staff himself, but I think he'll be extremely well treated and extremely well and honestly served by the senior military.

CONAN: General Odom, thanks very much for being with us today. Bill Odom, a retired lieutenant general in the United States army, former head of the NSA from 1985 to 1988, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, was kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A.

Also with us in the studio is Melvin Goodman. He's a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and director of the center's National Security Project. He was an analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency from 1966 to 1990 and worked with Robert Gates on Soviet foreign policy during the 80s. He testified against Robert Gates in hearings in 1991 when Gates was nominated to become director of central intelligence, which he was eventually confirmed and served in that role. And Melvin Goodman, nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. MELVIN GOODMAN (Senior Fellow, Center for International Policy; Director, National Security Project): Thank you, Neal. Good to be with you.

CONAN: And what questions would you have for Robert Gates?

Mr. GOODMAN: Well, I would start with Iran-Contra because this raises very important in issues of integrity, and I think we've jumped ahead to Iraq without looking at the background of the character of this man. We just passed the 20th anniversary of the revelation of Iran-Contra and remember that Gates got into trouble in 1987 when he was nominated to be CIA director and had to withdraw his nomination because no one believed him when he said he knew nothing about Iran-Contra. This begs questions about his testimony in April 1986 when he was named deputy director to Casey and he was asked about Iran-Contra…

CONAN: Bill Casey, the former director of Central Intelligence.

Mr. GOODMAN: Former director. And we know from documentation and from the Walsh special prosecutor of Iran-Contra that Gates knew about the HAWK's deliveries. He knew about the exorbitant prices that the Iranians were being charged that set up the diversion of profits to the Contras. He knew all of this and revealed nothing.

So I would ask him what has he learned from the Iran-Contra escapade - his role in it. And since the motto at the CIA - and I entered the building every morning for 24 years - is To Know the Truth. Why didn't he make a greater effort to learn the truth - this very zealous man, this very tenacious man, this man with a great memory - how come he remembered nothing?

And so when you get to his 1991 nomination to be CIA director, which he passed, nevertheless he attracted more than 31 votes more than all the votes against all of the CIA directors in history because 31 people didn't believe him about Iran-Contra and they didn't believe his role about politicizing intelligence because they had evidence that he clearly politicized intelligence on the Soviet Union, on arms control in Afghanistan. These are serious problems.

CONAN: Explain to us what you mean by politicizing intelligence.

Mr. GOODMAN: Politicizing intelligence is very basically putting a spin on intelligence. It isn't done by policymakers, it's done by intelligence officials. This is how we got into the war in Iraq in the first place. That was with politicized intelligence. The CIA did a terrible job. The White House made it worse, but it's kind of interesting that they're turning to a man for a solution to a problem that was created by politicized intelligence who not only has a tendency toward politicization but a tendency toward over-reliance on force and a tendency toward not telling truth to power.

Gates was guilty of all of this in the 1980s when he served his master at that time, William Casey, the CIA director. And one final point about fitness. No, he is not fit for this particular position because when you look at the really effective secretaries of defense - and I would put Harold Brown and Bill Perry at the top of my list - they had experience in military weapons acquisition, military reform, service rivalries and industrial experience. Gates has none of that and I don't think the Texas A & M experience really counts as a test, and I really have no idea what Michael is talking about when he talks about Gates as a transformational leader.

When he came back the CIA in 1991 he tried to give up most of his - the intelligence on military affairs to the Pentagon and the Defense Intelligence Agency. So Gates is just not that brave character, and to compare him to Clark Clifford, well I've met Clark Clifford. Bob Gates is no Clark Clifford.

CONAN: Michael Duffy, if you want to get back in on that transformational aspect.

Mr. DUFFY: I think Gates would think of himself as a transformational aspect. I think that's part of his, sort of calling card at the moment. I do think these are going to be issues that Melvin raises that will be all over this hearing next week. There are ten senators who voted against him 16 years ago who are still in the senate. They're all going to probably give him a hard look this time.

Mr. GOODMAN: Twelve actually.

Mr. DUFFY: Is it 12?

Mr. GOODMAN: Twelve.

CONAN: Anyway. Let's get another caller on the line, and this is Rose. Rose, calling us from New Jersey.

ROSE (Caller): Yes, thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

ROSE: I would like to simply ask Mr. Gates why he will not come forth on the issue of the October Surprise. I have personal knowledge of this cause I worked in a club in Manhattan where this all happened. And…

CONAN: This would've been back in October 1980.

ROSE: October of 19…

CONAN: Seventy-nine, yes.

ROSE: Yeah. And I had worked there the…

CONAN: Well, the October surprise would've been for the election, which was in 1980.

ROSE: Yes, yes. And in the spring of that year, this whole crowd came in and were basically putting Iran Contra together. You know, Iran Contra was set far, far before it was actually admitted to. And this man has to be loyal to people. Now he was working for Jimmy Carter. How loyal was he to Jimmy Carter, to come over to the Republican side and plot with these people the mess that we are now in?

I mean, this war situation hasn't been created overnight. This situation cooked for a long time. And it didn't happen in '84 or '86, it happened in '79. I saw these people, you know, making their plans, unfortunately.

CONAN: Rose, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

ROSE: Thank you.

CONAN: Okay. The October Surprise, in 1980?

Mr. GOODMAN: Well, Rose is confusing Iran Contra and the October Surprise. In 1980, Bob Gates was sort of an assistant to Brzezinski. And he was aware of all of the…

CONAN: Zbigniew Brzezinski, then the…

Mr. GOODMAN: The national security advisor to Jimmy Carter. And of course, Carter was desperate to do something about the hostages before the election, because the election was going to turn on that issue - and of course, they knew that. And a lot of people felt - and I've talked to many people who believe this, I don't think it can be proved - that Gates was the source to the Republicans, who brought them information about what the Carter administration was planning to get the hostages released and the kinds of discussions they were starting up with the Iranians.

And then Reagan and Casey, and others, did their darnedest to get the message to the Iranians - they should do nothing until the Reagan administration gets into power. And remember, this is the kind of thing Gates has always done in the past to prepare himself for the next job. So is it plausible? Of course. But do we know this? Not really.

But Iran Contra came four years later.

CONAN: And I guess the precipitating factor for Iran Contra was the Congress's passage of the Boland Amendment, which prohibited aid to the Contras in Nicaragua, which was not passed until after the election in 1980.

Mr. GOODMAN: Exactly. But what's very important about the Boland Amendment is, two weeks after it was passed, Gates wrote a secret memo to Bill Casey, recommending the use of airpower against Nicaragua - which would've been a violation of all law that the United States was involved in that time, in Central America, was far to the right of Ronald Reagan and Bill Casey - and fortunately was ignored.

But it tells you about Gates' reliance on force and what he would do to ingratiate himself with a master, such as Bill Casey. There were other memos like this, recommending force.

CONAN: We're soliciting your questions for Robert Gates. Give us a call, 800-989-2855. E-mail talk@NPR.org. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Dan on the line. Dan in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania.

DAN (Caller): Yes. I'd like to ask just one question. I'm 71 years old, I served in the Navy four years. I'd like to know if Mr. Gates has ever been in the military. And if not, what did he do during Vietnam and how did he set aside his military obligation?

CONAN: Michael Duffy?

Mr. DUFFY: I believe he was briefly in the Air Force, and then quickly moved into the Intelligence Training Program. And I would guess this is mid-60s.

CONAN: And he was an analyst at the CIA, not a field operator.

Mr. DUFFY: Correct.

CONAN: So he would've been based, presumably, either at an embassy or here in Washington, D.C., for the most part.

Mr. DUFFY: Exclusively in Washington…

DAN: But was he in the military?

Mr. DUFFY: Yes. He went into the Air Force in 1966 and he was slated for a position in intelligence and strategic affairs. In other words, assigned to a missile launch site, somewhere in the far West. But he found a way to do his Air Force obligation by coming to CIA as an analyst. And that's where we served together as Soviet analysts in '67 and '68 and for the period after that. So as far as his military experience - he has none.

And I think this is part of the weakness in terms of his fitness. And frankly, I don't know where he's going to draw on people he will need in that e-ring, because they're going to have to clear out the entire Rumsfeld staff. It's not just going to be Rumsfeld who's going to have to go, it's going to have to be Steve Cambone - the deputy director or undersecretary for intelligence - and people like that.

And Gates doesn't have a wide circle of associates, so this is going to be an interesting challenge for him.

DAN: Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Appreciate it, Dan.

DAN: Thank you. Bye, bye.

CONAN: Bye, bye. Let's go to now to Cathy(ph). Cathy, calling us from North Carolina.

CATHY (Caller): Yes. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

CATHY: I would like to ask a question of Mr. Gates, about Afghanistan. All the talk is about Iraq, because that seems to be where the crisis is, but we seem to lose sight of the fact that we've had troops in Afghanistan for two years longer. And the situation there has not only, not gotten any better, but it's deteriorating. And I just wonder if we have, as a nation, resigned ourselves to a permanent presence in Afghanistan, or if there is any indication, within the military community, of perhaps a change in the status of our presence there.

CONAN: And, Michael Duffy, of course, Afghanistan a major subject that they've just completed NATO summit in Riga.

Mr. DUFFY: Yeah. Well, there's a change contemplated, and it's in the addition of troops. It's not a reduction. They've increased the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, from about 10,000 a year ago to closer to 16,000 now, because they have huge trouble in the southeast part of the country with the resurgence of the Taliban.

CONAN: So, Cathy, did you want to ask him if he would keep those troops there -continue the mission?

CATHY: I'm talking long term. I mean, that additional troops is to address the current problem with the resurgence of the Taliban. But is there a long-term plan, or are we just going to stay there and occupy as we've done in South Korea, for the, you know, foreseeable future?

CONAN: Did you want to get in on this, Melvin…

Mr. GOODMAN: Well, we don't have any long-term plans. We don't have one for Iraq and we don't have one for Afghanistan and it's not clear that Bob Gates is going to change that. Let's give Donald Rumsfeld some credit. Donald Rumsfeld learned, in 2001, that the military had no plan to deal with terrorism in Afghanistan and didn't want to get involved in Afghanistan.

That's how the CIA jumped in to Afghanistan. And the CIA provided the real heroes of the war against al-Qaida and against the Taliban. But there was no staying power on the part of the United States. So the same mistake we made after the Soviets left and the mujahideen emerged into power, and letting that country just deteriorate and go into total chaos, we're in the process of doing that again, cause the Taliban is back in that country in tremendous strength and are operating very effectively. This is a serious worry and a challenge for Bob Gates.

CONAN: Cathy, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

CATHY: Thank you.

CONAN: And Melvin Goodman, we appreciate your joining us here today.

Mr. GOODMAN: Thank you. My pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: Melvin Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy: a former analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, who worked with and under Robert Gates at the CIA. And we'd also like to thank Michael Duffy for his time. Michael Duffy also with us here in Studio 3A - assistant managing editor of Time Magazine.

When we come back from a short break, Murray Horwitz unwraps his picks for the best holiday movies of all time. If you'd like to call and tell us your favorite Christmas, Hanukah, New Year's, any holiday film - why? The number is 800-989-2855, that's 800-989-TALK. E-mail us talk@NPR.org.

I'm Neal Conan. Back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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