Former intelligence official selected for top Defense spot

Former CIA chief Robert Gates recently was in Iraq as part of group assessing options for continued U.S. involvement in the country.

President Bush on Wednesday announced that he would nominate a longtime Washington insider and a self-described "agent of change" to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Robert M. Gates, who just entered his fifth year as president of Texas A&M University, certainly knows the difficult task he faces taking the helm of Defense during a protracted war. The former CIA director spent part of September in Iraq as a member of a group assessing the situation there and U.S. options in the region.

Gates' experience with the Iraq Study Group could serve him well at Defense. The bipartisan commission, headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Congressman Lee H. Hamilton, was convened earlier this year.

Less certain is how Gates would do leading a department that dwarfs all others in terms of budget and mission. "He's a bit of an unknown," said Thomas Donnelly, senior adviser of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "He's not a Defense guy. How he will interact with people in uniform is a big unknown."

Another question is whether or not Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England will continue in his job, Donnelly said: "If Gordon England goes, who is going to run the joint?" While England has not announced any plans to leave the administration, he has served in several high-level positions at the Defense and Homeland Security departments, leaving some to wonder how long he will continue at Defense.

Gates is no stranger to high-stakes security issues. He rose through the ranks of the CIA to become director of the agency from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush and served on the National Security Council under Henry Kissinger in the mid-1970s. He was a player and an observer during some of the most formative experiences shaping U.S. policy during the Cold War, many of which he detailed in his book From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (Simon & Schuster, 1996).

This isn't the first time the Bush administration has sought Gates' help in filling a critical security slot. In January 2005, Andrew Card, President Bush's chief of staff at the time and Gates' longtime friend, called to offer Gates the position of director of national intelligence. He spent 17 days agonizing over the issue, first deciding to accept the position and then changing his mind.

"I realized, sitting there alone in the dark, brushing away tears, how much I had come to love Texas A&M, all it stands for and all it can become. And I knew at that moment I could not leave," he said in a speech at the university on Sept. 9, 2005.

In a profile of Gates in the November issue of Texas Monthly, Paul Burka wrote that Gates accepted the position at Texas A&M after telling the regents there that "I am an agent of change. If you don't want change, you don't want me."

After Tuesday's elections in which Democrats swept the House on a platform of change, Gates may provide the sort of change many believe is needed at Defense. In Burka's words: "Bob Gates is not a man who reveals himself.… He is one of the most consistent personalities I've ever met. He's all business, a man under total self-control. He doesn't fidget. He isn't a backslapper. He doesn't make small talk. He doesn't boast; neither does he engage in false modesty. He is a motivator, not a cheerleader. He is always polite. He wears an air of authority as if it were tailored by Brooks Brothers. He answers questions fully but volunteers little. Most of his laughter comes from a finely developed sense of irony. I would back him to the hilt in a no-limit poker game."