WASHINGTON, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- If there is one phrase that Washington insiders and CIA old timers tend to use about Robert Gates, President Bush's choice to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as U.S. secretary of defense, it is, "He's a steady hand."
That quality, along with Gates' decades-long reputation for measured and sound judgment, marks the striking contrast between next Pentagon chief and his long-serving, gung-ho, combative and deeply controversial predecessor Donald Rumsfeld.
Two more different approaches to running the largest and most costly military machine on the planet and the most powerful institution in the United States government cannot possibly be imagined.
Gates has a generation of credentials as a traditional, old internationalist Republican in the mould of Dwight D. Eisenhower, James A. Baker III and George Herbert Walker Bush, under whom he served with distinction as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was famous for his respect for career professionals, for getting huge and complex institutions to run smoothly, and for providing first class strategic and operational level intelligence on a range of complex issues.
Gates is a long-time friend and respected close colleague of former Secretary of State James A. Baker. He has been serving on the Iraq Study Group that Baker has co-helmed at President George W. Bush's request with former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, the doyen of foreign policy experts among Democrats during his decades in the House of Representatives.
Baker's group has proved a lightning rod for controversy following reports that it may recommend some massive reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq over the coming years.
Gates has always had the reputation of being a cautious pragmatist rather than a bold or even reckless visionary like the man he will replace, Rumsfeld.
When Gates becomes secretary of defense, neo-conservative ideologues can look forward to the end of their six year romp through the highest circles of Pentagon power. Gates is expected to replace Stephen Cambone, the highly controversial first undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
Gates is an old CIA hand, mindful of how the CIA's highly accurate and prescient predictions of conditions that the United States would have to deal with in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein were ignored by Rumsfeld and his top officials. Therefore he may also shake out dozens of the neo-con analysts with whom Rumsfeld, his first deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, and his first under secretary of defense for policy, Douglas Feith, stuffed the Pentagon. Their assessments on virtually every major crisis that the U.S. armed forces have had to face in iraq have proven wildly wrong.
Gates will certainly look to stabilize Iraq as his first goal for that country and will abandon the last unworkable remnants of the neo-con dreams that Rumsfeld embraced of creating a stable, pro-American, Shiite-dominated democracy that would give U.S. oil interests a free hand. He will also likely seek to reduce tensions with Iran and with pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Baghdad if he can, rather than stirring them up, as Rumsfeld did almost until the day he left office with his final, unsuccessful drive to try and militarily crush the Shiite militias in Baghdad.
And just as Gates can be expected to drop Rumsfeld's favorite neo-conservative ideologues overboard, he can also be expected to encourage more candor, open debate and frank assessments from senior U.S. Army officers.
Rumsfeld may clear he did not want to hear what the generals really thought if it contradicted his own dearly held views back in 2003 when he publicly abused Gen. Eric Shinseki, then Army Chief of staff, for warning - entirely correctly as it turned out -- that hundreds of thousands more troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq than Rumsfeld was willing to provide.
As one of the most successful CIA directors in modern U.S. history, Gates can also be expected to end Rusmfeld's long Cold War against the rest of the U.S. intelligence community. Rumsfeld jealously kept the huge resources of the U.S. Department of Defense's own dozen intelligence agencies, which between them account for 80 percent of the more than $30 billion a year U.S. intelligence budget, under his sole control, and he continually blocked serious intel cooperation with the first Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte. Gates can be expected to work constructively with Negroponte and seek to energetically long-delayed inter-agency cooperation.
Gates will face an energetic new Democratic-controlled Congress eager to expose the mistakes and failures of a Bush-Rumsfeld team that shut them out and treated them with contempt for so long. Instead, Gates can be expected to seek to work constructively and cooperatively with the new masters of Congress. He is the perfect man to take on that job as he worked harmoniously with a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives through his entire tenure as CIA director.
Finally, unlike Rumsfeld, Gates can be expected to look pragmatically at the problems he inherits and the changing conditions he will face while in office. Unlike Rumsfeld, he has never been afraid of taking advice from people he disagrees with or changing his mind if the circumstances warrant.
After six years of Rusmfeld, a new wind is about to blow through the endless ring-corridors of the Pentagon.