Robert Gates, a cautious player

(The New York Times)
Updated: 2006-11-09 14:07

He first served on the National Security Council staff from 1974 to 1979 under Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter. After returning to the CIA, he was given a series of pivotal jobs by Director William Casey, including deputy director and chairman of the National Intelligence Council.

If Mr. Gates was initially reluctant to return to Washington, it may be because he knows what it means to be at the center of political crossfire. First picked by President Reagan in 1987 to succeed Mr. Casey, Mr. Gates withdrew in the face of senators' concern that he had not been candid about his knowledge of the Iran-contra affair.

In 1991, re-nominated by the first President Bush, he faced a grueling confirmation involving not only Iran-contra but also some colleagues' accusation that he had skewed intelligence reporting on the Soviet Union to suit the Reagan White House. Mr. Gates was confirmed, 61 to 31, as the youngest CIA director in history and oversaw the agency¡¯s initial effort to tackle post-cold-war threats.

He later defended his CIA record in a 1996 memoir, "From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War."

On Wednesday, a CIA subordinate who had clashed with him offered a harsh assessment. "This is not a person with a history of telling truth to power," said the former subordinate, Melvin A. Goodman, a Soviet analyst from 1966 to 1990. Mr. Goodman called Mr. Gates a micromanager and "not a big-picture person," though he also called him "a hard-working, disciplined person who's totally loyal to his bosses."

David Boren, a former Democratic chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, had warm praise for Mr. Gates's service. "I found him to be highly intelligent, an excellent manager of the large and complex intelligence community, and totally bipartisan in his approach," Mr. Boren said in a statement.

Bobby R. Inman, a former CIA deputy director and National Security Agency director and an old friend of Mr. Gates, called him "a good listener" who, "after he makes up his mind, is very decisive."

"He's impatient with those whose minds don't move as fast as his does, but he's not arrogant," Mr. Inman said. He compared Mr. Gates's nomination to President Johnson's choice of Clark Clifford, another unflappable old Washington hand, to replace the lightning rod Robert S. McNamara as defense secretary in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam war.

A hint of the approach Mr. Gates might bring to the job, drawing on his experience at the end of the cold war, can be found in his remarks in 2004 at the release of the Council on Foreign Relations report, called "Iran: Time for a New Approach."

"One of our recommendations is that the U.S. government lift its ban in terms of nongovernmental organizations being able to operate in Iran," Mr. Gates said. "Greater interaction between Iranians and the rest of the world," he said, "sets the stage for the kind of internal change that we all hope will happen there."

Courtesy of The New York Times


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