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Robert M. Gates, Defense Secretary

Author: Robert McMahon, Editor
December 3, 2008
This publication is now archived.

robert gatesRobert M. Gates has been asked by President Barack Obama to continue as defense secretary, in an unusual step of continuity between Republican and Democratic administrations. Gates was selected by President George W. Bush to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as Pentagon chief after heavy Republican Party losses in the 2006 midterm elections, which experts attributed in part to U.S. setbacks and faulty policy in Iraq. Gates presided over the "surge" of U.S. forces into Iraq in 2007 which, combined with other developments among Iraq's Sunni and Shiite armed factions, has stabilized the country. He also directed the ramping up of military efforts in Afghanistan, which Obama is expected to accelerate.

Seen as a pragmatic consensus builder, Gates has drawn attention during his tenure at the Pentagon for criticizing what he has called the "creeping militarization" of foreign policy. He has called for more funding for the State Department and other civilians agencies to help in the projection of U.S. soft power abroad. He said in a September 2008 speech at the National Defense University that the Defense Department must be prepared for constrained resources while remaining nimble in adapting to new challenges. "Support for conventional modernization programs is deeply embedded in our budget, in our bureaucracy, in the defense industry, and in Congress," Gates said. "My fundamental concern is that there is not commensurate institutional support--including in the Pentagon--for the capabilities needed to win the wars we are in, and of the kinds of missions we are most likely to undertake in the future."

Gates has spent much of his career as an intelligence professional. He joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1966 and departed as the agency's director in 1993. During nearly one-third of that time, Gates worked at the National Security Council, serving four presidents from both parties. He rose through the ranks of the intelligence service as a Soviet analyst and has defended the CIA's performance during the Cold War. He said (NPR) the "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." His Senate confirmation for the CIA post was dominated by questions about how much he knew about the Iran-Contra affair, in which some Reagan administration officials arranged for the sale of weapons to Iran in order to secretly channel the funds to anti-communist Nicaraguan rebels.

Two years prior to joining the Bush administration, Gates cochaired a CFR Task Force on Iran that called for dropping the rhetoric of regime change and selective engagement with Iranian leaders.

Selected Readings:

Gates speech at National Defense University, September 29, 2008.

CFR Task Force Report: Iran: Time for a New Approach

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