Gates - Pentagon Pick Returns To City He Gladly Left

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
November 19, 2006
By Scott Shane
WASHINGTON, Nov. 18 — Since 1993, when Robert M. Gates left Washington after completing 14 months as head of the Central Intelligence Agency saying it was “time to get a life,” he has recalled the capital’s clashing egos and the news media’s magnifying glass less than fondly.
Mr. Gates has kept his distance, basking in the tranquillity of a lakefront house near Seattle and then in the homespun rituals of Texas A&M University, where he has served as president since 2002. He has recalled the public battering he took in two Senate confirmation hearings as “unpredictable, frustrating, exhausting, insulting, humiliating” — in short, “a lot like a root canal.”
Well, welcome back to the dentist’s chair, Mr. Gates.
Nominated by President Bush to replace Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary, Mr. Gates, if he is confirmed as expected, will face challenges that dwarf even those he saw in the tumultuous last years of the cold war. With troops stretched thin and with no Pentagon experience, Mr. Gates will search for answers to the bloody civil strife in Iraq, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism around the world.
“Things are so difficult and so complicated, it may be beyond anyone’s ability to be successful,” said Brent Scowcroft, a mentor and admirer of Mr. Gates.
“I think he’s crazy to take the job,” said Mr. Scowcroft, the national security adviser to the first President Bush, “and I’m very glad he’s doing it.”
Mr. Gates’s life has embodied some paradoxes. He is a courteous 63-year-old native of Kansas who put himself through college as a grain inspector and school bus driver, an Eagle Scout who still serves in national scouting posts and likes to say that “every boy that joins the Scouts is a boy on the right track.” He is revered at Texas A&M, where he won over faculty skeptics and plunged into student life, leading the midnight-Friday pre-football-game “yell practices” and rising before dawn to jog with the Corps of Cadets.
Former bosses and many of his colleagues from the C.I.A. and the National Security Council speak in superlatives of Mr. Gates’s quiet brainpower, steadiness and rectitude. “There’s a Sgt. Joe Friday quality about him,” said Richard N. Haas, who served with him on the security council staff. “There’s a stoic quality. It’s the analyst in him.”
Robert D. Blackwill, a veteran diplomat who also was a security council colleague, calls him “an utterly honorable person.”
“I saw him many times every day for several years,” Mr. Blackwill said, “and I never once saw him cut a corner or suggest anything improper.”
Such praise notwithstanding, Mr. Gates’s government service survived two episodes in which his professional ethics were challenged.
First his truthfulness came under question in the Iran-contra affair, derailing his 1987 nomination to head the C.I.A.
A special prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh, found Mr. Gates’s statements “less than candid” and wrote in his final report that he did not bring criminal charges only because “a jury could find the evidence left a reasonable doubt that Gates either obstructed official inquiries or that his two demonstrably incorrect statements were deliberate lies.”
Thomas Polgar, a career C.I.A. officer who became a Senate investigator on Iran-contra, said in an interview that Mr. Gates’s testimony was unconvincing. “For a guy with such a good memory, it was astonishing how much he forgot,” Mr. Polgar said.
In the second episode, Mr. Gates was accused by several former C.I.A. subordinates in 1991 of a cardinal sin for an intelligence analyst: politicizing intelligence by tailoring reports on the Soviet Union to fit his own and his bosses’ hard-line views.
Mr. Gates’s backers, who are legion among veterans of intelligence and diplomacy, say the accusations came from disgruntled analysts who acted out of personal animus and never deserved the attention they got.
“I think it’s an extraordinary example of his patriotism,” Mr. Blackwill said, “that he’s willing to give up a job he loves and get back in the Washington cauldron.”
Mr. Gates grew up a long way from that cauldron, in a middle-class Wichita neighborhood. His father sold auto parts wholesale, and his older brother, Jim, would become a school principal.
At East High School, Bob Gates was a straight-A student who sang in the boys’ choir and once put together a collection of animal brains.
Mr. Gates won a scholarship to the College of William and Mary, where he studied history, and went on to earn a master’s degree at Indiana University. There he met his wife, Rebecca Wilkie Gates. They have two grown children, Eleanor and Brad.
At Indiana, Mr. Gates met with a C.I.A. recruiter and was offered a job as a Soviet analyst but first served 15 months in the Air Force keeping missile crews in Missouri abreast of international political and military developments.
“Their lack of interest was awesome,” Mr. Gates wrote with characteristic deadpan humor in a 1996 memoir, “From the Shadows.”
In 1974, he completed work on a Ph.D. at Georgetown, writing his dissertation on Soviet views of China and, at 31, won an assignment to the National Security Council staff.
He would serve two stints at the security council totaling seven years under four presidents, both Democrats and Republicans.
Mr. Gates had great confidence in his own skills and views, which quickly attracted the attention of William Casey, who was director of central intelligence under President Ronald Reagan.
“He was a wunderkind, and a little bit of brashness goes with that,” said James M. Olson, who spent his career at the C.I.A. and now teaches at Texas A&M.
In 1983, when Mr. Casey promoted Mr. Gates over more experienced analysts to the post of deputy director for intelligence, he gave analysts the “junkyard dog speech,” recalled Arthur S. Hulnick, a retired agency veteran. Mr. Gates sharply criticized the quality of work and declared, “I’m going to set a bunch of junkyard dogs loose to make sure your analysis is good,” Mr. Hulnick said.
Richard J. Kerr, a veteran analyst who later served as Mr. Gates’s deputy, said the agency’s analysis “had become lax and sloppy, and Bob set out to change that.”
There were also ideological differences, Mr. Kerr said: “Some analysts looked at the Soviets and saw a glass half full. Bob always saw it as half empty.”
The resulting friction, he said, prompted the charges of politicization, which he felt were unfair. Ms. Glaudemans, however, insists that Mr. Gates rejected reports on subjects that included the Soviet role in terrorism and Soviet influence on Iran that did not fit his preconceptions. Sometimes, she said, he sent back reports he did not like “stapled to the burn bag,” implying they should be destroyed.
Ms. Glaudemans said that in 1989, when Mr. Gates had left for the security council, he requested a C.I.A. memorandum on Soviet prospects if Mikhail S. Gorbachev did not last. An initial version, allowing for the possibility that reform would continue under Boris N. Yeltsin or another leader, was rejected, she said, because Mr. Gates wanted the paper to predict a return to neo-Stalinism.
“I took my name off the paper,” said Ms. Glaudemans, who then left the C.I.A. and is now a lawyer. “Gates was a brutal manager to people who stood up to him and Casey.”
When Mr. Casey died, President Reagan named the 44-year-old Mr. Gates to succeed him. But when some Democratic senators doubted Mr. Gates’s insistence that he knew nothing about secret arms sales to Iran and diversion of the proceeds to help the Nicaraguan contra rebels to Iran, he withdrew his nomination.
Loath to lose his services, President George Bush named him as Mr. Scowcroft’s deputy in 1989 and for a second time as C.I.A. director in 1991.
A few months after taking the helm of the C.I.A., Mr. Gates gathered the employees in the auditorium to speak about the dangers of politicizing intelligence. He described the confirmation dispute as “wrenching, embarrassing, even humiliating” and admitted that in 25 years he might not have “always drawn the line” correctly.
Most of the speech, however, covered a series of proposed reforms to reduce the possibility of political spin, including the appointment of an internal ombudsman.
After his brief tenure as director of central intelligence, Mr. Gates retreated from the capital to the mountains north of Seattle. He consulted, wrote and earned money from speaking engagements and corporate boards.
Persuaded by Mr. Scowcroft to become interim dean of the George Bush School of Government at Texas A&M, Mr. Gates was offered the university presidency two years later.
The faculty had doubts about the appointment, said R. Douglas Slack, an ecologist and speaker of the faculty senate, who acknowledges he imagined “secrecy, intrigue and black helicopters.”
But Mr. Gates steadily won over professors and students. He found financing to add 450 faculty members, and he improved racial and economic diversity, sometimes by personally handing out scholarships in poor neighborhoods. He also began an ambitious building program.
“He’s a leader, but he’s not bombastic,” Mr. Slack said. “I’ve been here 30 years, and he’s the best president I’ve served under.”
On Nov. 10, two days after his nomination as defense secretary, Mr. Gates addressed 30,000 people gathered for the “midnight yell practice” and spoke briefly, mixing football boosterism with glancing references to his impending departure.
“I have only one request of you as Aggies,” he concluded, his voice breaking with emotion, “and that’s to never forget the importance of duty and honor and country.”
Many in the audience wept, according to people who were there, and the applause on the YouTube clip is deafening. It was a reception he is unlikely to get in Washington.