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Robert Gates, from a Colleague's Viewpoint


Ken Pollack worked under Robert Gates at the CIA and the National Security Council. He joins us from the Brookings Institution, where he's a senior fellow. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. KEN POLLACK (Brookings Institution): My pleasure, Melissa.

BLOCK: And how would you describe Robert Gates's thinking on intelligence and foreign policy, and in particular how his approach might differ from that of Donald Rumsfeld?

Mr. POLLACK: Well, what we've seen from Bob Gates when he's been in senior positions is that he has tended to be very realistic, very focused on the reality of the situation, an extremely competent bureaucratic manager, someone who is not afraid to ask hard questions, and someone who is willing to go where those hard questions lead him.

BLOCK: Do you think that in bringing someone over from the intelligence world to the Pentagon, does that in some way shape the direction of what might happen there?

Mr. POLLACK: It's entirely possible. I think we have to assume that Mr. Gates asked President Bush for a very clear, explicit statement that the president would be willing to make significant changes if Mr. Gates found that those changes were necessary. Bob Gates is not someone who has sought out the public spotlight since he has retired from government. He is not someone who has avidly clamored for jobs.

In fact, there are some pretty extensive rumors to suggest that he had been asked to take the job currently occupied by John Negroponte, the director of National Intelligence, but had turned down that role because, quite frankly, it wasn't really to his liking.

So the idea that Bob Gates would be coming back to government and coming back at this crucial moment, at a time when taking over the responsibilities of the secretary of defense can only be seen as a Herculean if not a sisyphean task, suggests that Mr. Gates secured beforehand some commitments from President Bush that he really would be open to making changes.

And therefore, I think that we have to expect that Mr. Gates is going to come in, he's going to be willing to look at all these things fresh. As you pointed out, he is a member of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, where he's been looking hard at Iraq. And I think that we have to assume that he really is going to look at things from first, principles, and that he may recommend to President Bush some very dramatic changes in direction.

BLOCK: He was, of course, in the first Bush administration during the first Gulf War. Do you think that his thinking might be affected by the thinking of the first President Bush and how that conflict was handled?

Mr. POLLACK: Again, it's entirely possible, although I think this is one of the enticing things out there. As I said, Bob Gates is not someone who has sought the spotlight since he left government. He's someone whose views on Iraq aren't very well known. Quite frankly, I don't think that too many people other than Mr. Gates really know how he feels about Iraq, whether he was in favor of the war or opposed to it, where exactly he stands on this matter. And so as a result, I don't think that any of us really knows where he thinks.

Obviously, he is a member of the Baker-Hamilton Commission. They were asked to look at this from first, principles. To look at Iraq from head to toe and to decide what the best course of action is. And as you've suggested, he is very closely tied to President Bush 41's administration. He is a protégé of Brent Scowcroft and obviously, Brent Scowcroft has been a pretty fierce critic of the Iraq war.

So it is possible that Mr. Gates thinks along similar lines. But Mr. Gates is a very bright person who was known for keeping his own counsel, so I don't think that we should just automatically assume that what he is bringing to office is necessarily the perspective of either James Baker or Brent Scowcroft, although I think there's no question that his thinking will be informed by both their views and, as you point out, by his own experience during the first Gulf War.

BLOCK: You mentioned earlier his management style. How would you describe his style and management at the CIA and at the NSC?

Mr. POLLACK: Very effective. Bob Gates is a consummate bureaucrat, and I use that word in the best sense. He is someone who understood how to manage people. He is someone who understood how to manage a bureaucratic process. I think I and many other people who've served in the U.S. government in the last 15 or 20 years believe that the process that Mr. Gates and General Scowcroft ran under the first President Bush was about as efficient as government gets.

BLOCK: Kenneth Pollack, thanks very much.

Mr. POLLACK: Thank you.

BLOCK: Kenneth Pollack is a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution here in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.