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Analysis: Great Expectations for Gates

Council on Foreign Relations

December 4, 2006
Prepared by: Robert McMahon

Robert M. Gates is the choice of a politically weakened administration to prosecute a war increasingly seen as militarily unwinnable. Indeed, Monday brought a reminder of that political weakness when John Bolton, a lightning-rod for Democratic criticism, announced his resignation as UN ambassador as it became clear the power shift in the Senate would deny him the ability (WashPost) to continue there.

But great anticipation awaits Gates’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on December 5. Gates’ hearing over his nomination to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary, and the planned December 6 release of the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, could signal a new direction in U.S. policy on resolving the war in Iraq. As chair of a CFR Task Force on Iran, Gates expressed support for sustained engagement with Iran, which suggests he could support a regional conference on Iraq. He is on record as challenging the Pentagon’s reach (WashPost) into intelligence matters.

Gates directed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the administration of George H.W. Bush after a long career in the agency as well as a stint on the National Security Council. He acquired the reputation among some as “the consummate realist and pragmatist,” in the words of Gary G. Sick, an expert on Iran who worked with Gates at the White House in the 1970s. A Financial Times portrait said of Gates: “Most of Washington and the international community will be reassured simply by his presence—and his predecessor’s absence.” And even top Senate Democrats, like Carl Levin (D-MI), who voted against Gates after tough hearings for the CIA job in 1991, have spoken of him in encouraging terms this time around.

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Copyright 2006 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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