Robert Gates Nominated as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been named to be Donald Rumsfeld's successor as Secretary of Defense.
NPR logo Robert Gates Nominated as Defense Secretary

Robert Gates Nominated as Defense Secretary

NPR's Coverage of Bush Press Conference

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Q&A: Who Is Robert Gates?

In His Own Words

Responding to Terrorism

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- 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:

Gates on U.S. Iran Policy

In 2004, Robert Gates was among a group of foreign-policy experts who advocated a selective engagement with Iran:

"It is not in our interest for Iran to have nuclear weapons," Gates said. "It is not in our interest for Iran to oppose the new governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. And if we can engage them and try and bring some progress in those areas, then our interests have been served. And that's what it's all about."

Gates also said that if the United States were to open lines of communication with Iran, that would not be sending a mixed message.

"Well, are we rewarding bad behavior by talking to the Libyans?" Gates said.

"Are we rewarding bad behavior by talking to the North Koreans? We're trying to figure out how to limit the national security risks to the United States from policies that Iran is following.

"We don't have much of a voice in that effort right now. We're basically sitting on the sidelines," Gates told NPR's Michele Kelemen in July 2004.

The Role of Intelligence

In 1999, Gates discussed the CIA's Cold-War role. Excerpts are below.

"First, you must remember that CIA, like the Presidents it served, was under political attack from both conservatives and liberals from the early 1970s on, and probably long before that. Liberals generally opposed CIA's operational activities and believed it exaggerated the Soviet threat. Conservatives, on the other hand, were critical of CIA's assessments of the Soviet Union which they considered too soft and skewed by CIA's involvement in the arms control process."

"All in all, CIA uniquely among the world's intelligence services, endeavored to conduct its operations according to presidential directive under the rule of law and in every way possible consistent with American values. No one can or will deny that there were lapses and failures and that the Agency paid a high price for them. But in a shadow war that ranged across the globe for nearly five decades, such failures were remarkably few and far between."

"The truth is, I suspect I'm the only CIA officer to have had two Secretaries of State, a Secretary of Defense, and the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party all try at different times to get me fired. A dubious distinction that would have turned a lesser man's hair gray."

Source: CIA