March 11th, 2007
Responsive Gates: Rumsfeld's Reverse info
We have noticed a big difference around our work place.... good for him.
March 11, 2007
By Robert Burns, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - After heading the Pentagon for less than three months, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is showing an instinct for decisiveness without the reflex for defensiveness that was a hallmark of his sometimes prickly predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Gates has not confronted the kind of tough decisions that Rumsfeld faced after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, nor is he trying to press as broad an agenda as did Rumsfeld, who became defense secretary in January 2001 with a mandate from President Bush to transform the military.
Yet in ways large and small Gates is displaying more pragmatism in managing the Pentagon amid the mammoth task of overseeing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has taken a less confrontational approach to the news media and has improved relations with Congress. And in some cases he has publicly criticized what happened on Rumsfeld's watch.
After news reports generated outrage over shoddy living conditions and excessive red tape for war-wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Gates showed an inclination to act aggressively when he saw Army leaders trying to minimize the scandal.
At his urging, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey fired the two-star general in charge of Walter Reed. And the next day, Gates forced Harvey to resign because he was dissatisfied that Harvey had put in charge another general who was under scrutiny for his role at the hospital.
"I don't have very much patience for people that don't step up to the plate in terms of addressing problems that are under their responsibility," Gates said shortly before Harvey's departure was announced.
Gates told a congressional panel that he found it "ridiculous" that when he took office in December the Pentagon was planning to spend about $100 million to build a courthouse complex at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to hold military trials for some of the hundreds of suspected terrorists held there. Gates substituted a more modest proposal to facilitate the trials.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) said in January that after six years of Rumsfeld rule, Gates was a "breath of fresh air."
Gates also has made gestures to repair relations with the military, which at times saw Rumsfeld as dismissive, even disrespectful. Gates has met once a week with the service chiefs on their turf - in the secure conference room in the Pentagon known as "the Tank."
Comparisons were inevitable, and it may be early to reach firm conclusions about the Gates tenure. His willingness to listen to others - his generals, his staff, and members of Congress - may be due, in part, to the fact he is new to the Pentagon and has much to learn.
On the other hand, some who watched Rumsfeld and Gates see signs of important differences.
"I don't find it a coincidence that just as Gates has come into the senior echelons of the Bush administration's policy-making process that it is showing more flexibility with respect to Iran," said P.J. Crowley, a Defense Department and White House official during the Clinton administration and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. He was referring to the administration's decision to join diplomatic talks with Iran over the future of neighboring Iraq.
Gates has said he is not consciously trying to underline differences with Rumsfeld, but he did so in his first public speech overseas. Without mentioning Rumsfeld, he alluded to the former secretary's criticism of traditional allies such as France and Germany as "Old Europe" during the run-up to the Iraq war.
Gates told an international audience in Munich, Germany, that some people had tried to divide the allied countries into categories - such as east and west, north versus south.
"I'm even told that some have even spoken in terms of 'old' Europe versus 'new,' " said Gates, who was CIA director under President George H.W. Bush. "All of these characterizations belong in the past."
Daniel Goure, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute think tank, said Gates might be enjoying a honeymoon with the public and Congress.
"Rumsfeld let everybody know that he was the smartest man, not in the room but in the whole building," Goure said. "That is not Gates. That is the first thing. Secondly, Gates is not enamored with the camera."
Rumsfeld emerged as a star of Bush's cabinet with his brashly confident post-9/11 televised news conferences on the invasion of Afghanistan and later the war in Iraq. As the war wore on and became deeply unpopular, however, his feistiness came to be seen less favorably.
Gates has taken to holding news conferences in what he considers a more relaxed setting, sitting behind a large desk in the Pentagon briefing room rather than standing behind a rostrum targeted by multiple cameras.
"I feel more at ease in a more informal setting," he said. "Frankly, I get tired when I stand up too long."