WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Robert Gates, the nominee to replace U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, is unlikely to take office until January.
"My understanding is Mr. Gates has a couple of other obligations," said Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff.
Ruff said Gates, now the president of Texas A & M University, has promised to be at graduation ceremonies in mid-January.
However, Gates is scheduled to face the Senate Armed Services Committee next week for his nomination hearing. Presuming the committee approves him, the entire Senate would be able to approve him shortly thereafter.
Rumsfeld has said he would serve until Gates is sworn in, but President George W. Bush in early November declared Rumsfeld would be, on Dec. 29, the longest serving defense secretary in history, suggesting that the schedule of succession would be orchestrated to give Rumsfeld that distinction.
A Pentagon official told UPI Monday Rumsfeld has "no desire for an artificial date" to end his tenure.
"He said 'as soon as is practical,'" the official said.
Gates still has to get through his confirmation and there is a possibility it could be rockier than expected: on Friday, newly declassified documents concerning the Iran-Contra arms scandal were released by the National Security Archive, a project funded by George Washington University in Washington.
The documents could pick the scabs off old wounds. His murky role in Iran-Contra -- whether he misled Congress about what and when he knew about the White House scheme to raise private funds to buy Nicaraguan rebels arms to continue their fight against the communist Sandanistas -- sunk his first bid to be CIA director in 1987. Contentious hearings led to Gates withdrawing his nomination.
He was nominated by the first President Bush in 1991. Again he faced tough questioning, including a succession of CIA officers who contended Gates as deputy director had dangerously politicized intelligence findings on the Soviet Union, according to the book "Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA," by John Prados. Gates fought back, and with strong support from the White House and the Senate intelligence committee chairman, he secured the nomination. He became a well regarded CIA chief who apparently learned valuable lessons from his previous experience at the CIA and on the National Security Council.
The newly released documents include a lengthy 1984 memo from then-Deputy Director of Intelligence Gates to then-CIA director William Casey in which he advocates a tough public stance on Nicaragua. In it he warned that unless the United States takes strong action, communist fighters would overrun Honduras and Nicaragua would turn into an armed Cuba-like enclave for the Soviet Union in the American hemisphere.
Twice in the memo he references the Monroe Doctrine, established in 1823, that decreed Latin America to be within the United States' special sphere of influence. In later years it became the rationalization for involvement -- or military interference -- in Latin American countries internal affairs.
"The fact is that the Western hemisphere is the sphere of influence of the United States. If we have decided totally to abandon the Monroe Doctrine, if in the 1980s taking strong actions to protect our interests despite the hail of criticism is too difficult, then we ought to save political capital in Washington, acknowledge our helplessness and stop wasting everybody's time," Gates wrote.
The 20-year-old memo outlines a world view that if still held by Gates, produces fodder for questions about what his policy for Iraq and Iran might be, said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst with the National Security Archives.
Kornbluh said one of the main tasks of the Senate Armed Services Committee during next week's hearings will be to find out whether Gates still believes in such a naked exercise of American power.
"The extraordinary issue about this memo is it was a secret memo in which very imperious views were candidly expressed about the attitude of some of key U.S. policy makers that 'might makes right,' that if we thought the threat was real we should take aggressive policy action," Kornbluh told UPI.
That attitude is reminiscent of the Bush administration's approach to Iraq in 2002 and 2003.
"Certainly when the full record of the lead up to war in Iraq is declassified I believe we'll find similar views being expressed," Kornblu said. "It was what George Bush might have called 'a candid assessment for the need for regime change.'"
Gates has had the benefit of 20 years experience to revise that approach, Kornbluh pointed out, but he sees similarities in tone between Gates and Rumsfeld.
"This is a different period, a different set of circumstances, and the type of attitude displayed in a memo toward Nicaragua would more be associated with the SecDef (secretary of defense) departing than the SecDef being named to replace him," he said.
Gates wrote in the memo: "Once you accept that ridding the continent of this regime is important to our national interest and must be our primary objective, the issue becomes a stark one. You either acknowledge that you must take all necessary measures (short of military invasion) to bring down that regime, or you admit you do not have the will do anything about the problem."
Although Gates' role in Iran-Contra has been exhaustively catalogued in hearings and federal investigations, Kornbluh believes this memo will reopen the matter for debate.
"It's kind of hard to imagine that a Senate committee concerned about the attitudes and ideologies that got us into the quagmire of Iraq could avoid exploring them, when (Gates) has expressed them so clearly in another context," he said.