"A different face on an old policy"?

Will Bob Gates bring a course correction in Iraq, or maintain the status quo?

Tim Grieve
November 9, 2006 12:33AM (UTC)

George W. Bush has just finished his election postmortem, but he'll be back before the cameras later today to introduce Bob Gates, the man he will nominate to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense.

In Washington, Gates doesn't need much of an introduction. Gates, who met with Bush over the weekend in Crawford, is currently the president of Texas A&M University. Before that, however, he served for 26 years as an intelligence operative, ultimately running the CIA during the last years of George H.W. Bush's presidency.


Gates is a friend of the Bush family -- the current president reportedly asked him to serve as the director of national intelligence -- and he is a member of Jim Baker's Iraq war commission.

To the extent people outside of Washington remember Gates, it's probably for his role in Iran-Contra. As Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh said in a final report on his Iran-Contra investigation, Gates "consistently testified" that he didn't know that proceeds from arms sales to Iran were being diverted to the Contras until he learned of it from a national intelligence officer in October 1986. In fact, Walsh said, Gates had received a report on the diversion several months earlier. Walsh didn't bring charges against Gates -- not because he thought Gates had told the truth, but because he didn't think he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gates had lied.

Gates' role in Iran-Contra didn't stop the Senate from confirming him as the CIA director more than a decade ago, and it's not likely to play too much of a role in his confimation hearings this time around. A much bigger question will be Gates' views on the way forward in Iraq -- particularly if Democrats take control of the Senate before those hearings begin. Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, set to become the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, says Democrats will want to know that Gates will be "more than just a different face on an old policy." In a statement, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein called Rumsfeld "stubborn and arrogant" and said that she hoped his replacement would "work with Congress to restore a clear-eyed and pragmatic view to our nation's defense policy."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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