In Gates Selection, White House Hopes To Close Rift Between State And Defense

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
November 12, 2006
Pg. 29

By David E. Sanger and Scott Shane
WASHINGTON, Nov. 11 — President Bush selected Robert M. Gates as his new defense secretary in part to close a long-running rift between the Defense Department and the State Department that has hobbled progress on Iraq, keeping the two agencies at odds on issues ranging from reconstruction to detaining terrorism suspects, according to White House officials and members of Mr. Gates’s inner circle.
While Mr. Gates, a former director of central intelligence, had long been considered for a variety of roles, over the past two months Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, quietly steered the White House toward replacing Donald H. Rumsfeld with Mr. Gates, who had worked closely with Ms. Rice under the first President Bush. One senior participant in those discussions, who declined to be identified by name while talking about internal deliberations, said, “everyone realizes that we don’t have much time to get this right” and the first step is to get “everyone driving on the same track.”
White House officials said that goal may be difficult to accomplish in the seventh year of an administration. Ms. Rice and Mr. Rumsfeld never managed to resolve their differences, especially after their arguments over the handling of the occupation came into public view in late summer 2003. As national security adviser during Mr. Bush’s first term, Ms. Rice was unable to halt a war between the State Department and the Pentagon that put senior officials in the departments in a state of constant conflict.
The question now is whether it is simply too late to achieve President Bush’s goal of a stable and democratic Iraq, even if Mr. Gates and Ms. Rice are able to work together as smoothly in altering policy as they did 15 years ago on a very different kind of problem, managing the American response to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
A few members of the Iraq Study Group — the commission created in March at the urging of members of Congress and led by James A. Baker III, from which Mr. Gates stepped down on Friday — have wondered aloud in recent days whether the insurgency and sectarian conflict in Iraq may be too far advanced to reverse. The group will consult with the British prime minister, Tony Blair, by video on Tuesday and is due to present recommendations to the White House and Congress in December.
And while Mr. Gates, who faces Senate confirmation hearings at roughly the same time, is considered far less combative and contrarian than Mr. Rumsfeld, he has a long-ago history of conflict with secretaries of state, most notably George P. Shultz, who objected to Mr. Gates’s hawkish views of the Soviet Union and once tried to have him fired.
He is being thrust into the job at a moment when Democrats, newly empowered by their control of the House and the Senate, are promising investigations into the conduct of the war in Iraq and demanding a far greater voice in Iraq policy.
Nor is it clear how Mr. Gates will deal with Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney worked for years to protect Mr. Rumsfeld, who had hired him for his first government job, and the top echelons of the Defense Department have been peppered with Cheney protégés. Many of them have told associates they expect to be leaving, as Mr. Gates takes over with a mandate, in Mr. Bush’s words, to approach the job with “fresh eyes.”
White House officials would say little on the record about the deliberations that led to the selection of Mr. Gates, 63, the president of Texas A&M University. But on Friday, they rejected the conventional wisdom in Washington that his selection amounts to a resurrection of the advisers to Mr. Bush’s father, or a resurgence of realism to rescue a war started with the ideological certainty that toppling Saddam Hussein would help spread democracy across the Middle East.
“It dumbs this whole thing down to say that this is the victory of the pragmatists over the ideologues,” said Daniel Bartlett, the president’s counselor, who took part in the secret decisions to oust Mr. Rumsfeld and bring in Mr. Gates. “We are going to be practical in some respects, and ideological in others. But we knew that we needed a defense secretary who could hit the ground running and who was very familiar with the challenges we face.”
A national security official who served under Ms. Rice in President Bush’s first term said she regularly consulted with Mr. Gates, particularly on intelligence matters. “When she needed to figure out what had gone wrong at the C.I.A., she turned to him,” the official said.
Perhaps so, but Mr. Gates’s friends say he will approach the current Iraq policy with a healthy skepticism. Joseph Nye, a Harvard professor and a Democrat who has known Mr. Gates for two decades and dealt with him on a variety of intelligence issues, describes him as “a realist, a conservative realist.”
“He is open to evidence and less likely to be driven by fads, or the ideological certainties that sped this administration off course,” Mr. Nye said. Mr. Gates’s “frame of reference is more where Condoleezza Rice used to be, before the administration’s excursion into democracy promotion.”
In his memoirs, Mr. Gates writes of working with Ms. Rice, then a mid-level aide in the National Security Council, on a variety of projects, including the preparation of secret contingency plans in 1989 for the possibility that Mikhail S. Gorbachev might be overthrown and the Soviet Union descend into chaos.
Now, in a new partnership 17 years later, officials say their task is to guide Mr. Bush through even more treacherous waters: finding a way to stabilize Iraq, while devising options for the United States if the weak Iraqi government collapses or full-scale civil war breaks out.
All those possibilities have been debated by members of the Iraq Study Group. Mr. Gates was chosen as a Republican member of that commission by Mr. Baker, though the two occasionally clashed during the first Bush administration.
In his 1995 memoir, “The Politics of Diplomacy,” Mr. Baker recounted his fury at learning in 1989 that Mr. Gates, then deputy national security adviser, intended to give a speech predicting that Mr. Gorbachev would not remain in power for much longer.
“When Gates had been at the C.I.A., he had given a speech that had completely undercut George Shultz on Soviet policy,” Mr. Baker wrote. “That had hurt President Reagan then, and this would hurt George Bush now,” he continued, referring to the first President Bush. Mr. Baker killed the speech.
In his long cold war experience as a C.I.A. director and deputy national security adviser, Mr. Gates never had to cope with an insurgency the size of the one that has erupted in Iraq, or devise a strategy for containing a battle between rival Islamic groups.
Last summer he told the Council on Foreign Relations that “we have the old line in the intelligence business that everything we want to know is divided into two categories: secrets and mysteries.” Iraq, he said, “is very much the latter.”
Yet together with Ms. Rice, Mr. Gates is expected to have to put into action recommendations by the study group that are likely to call for initiatives involving European allies and Iraq’s neighbors in the Middle East. The new plans are expected to mix diplomacy, the training of Iraqi troops and the use of American force to quell the violence in Baghdad, and to require close coordination between the Departments of State and Defense.
“They needed someone who was not only capable but willing to try something new,” said a former Gates colleague who has followed the process closely and who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Once these recommendations come out, some are going to be Gates’s to carry out, and some are going to be Rice’s.”
Mr. Gates has at times been critical of Bush administration policies, most clearly in the case of how to deal with Iran, which administration officials fear is manipulating Shiite militias in Iraq. Along with Zbigniew Brzezinski, his former boss on President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Council, he called in 2004 for a new approach, including talks with Tehran and expansion of and cultural contacts. So far, Mr. Bush has rejected most of that advice.
“He defies labels,” said Bobby R. Inman, an old friend and former C.I.A. colleague of Mr. Gates. “His orientation is to solving problems.”
In 1994, he endorsed with some reservations the idea of missile strikes to take out North Korean nuclear facilities. “Unless they believe we can and will use our strength, there is little chance of influencing them,” he wrote. “A nuclear North Korea is the price we have paid to learn this lesson.”
Similarly, in 1997, he proposed “a powerful air and missile campaign” to prevent Saddam Hussein from acquiring unconventional weapons.
But in 1998, he took a less bellicose approach in a prescient article on terrorism, written after the bombings at American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He said the United States had to consider “whether to make a war against terrorism our highest priority in foreign policy.”
He counseled caution, arguing that “retributive violence, no matter how massive, almost inevitably begets more violence against us in response.” He advised a combination of terrorist arrests, targeted military action and promotion of human rights and political freedom in the Middle East.