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POLITICS-US: Gates Overhauls Rumsfeld’s Pentagon

Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Jun 11 2007 (IPS) - Friday’s announcement that Gen. Peter Pace will not be nominated for a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces marks the latest in a series of moves by Pentagon chief Robert Gates to transform the leadership of the Pentagon and consign his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, to distant memory.

Indeed, in the less than seven months since Gates himself replaced Rumsfeld, the former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief has played a key, if largely quiet, role in steering U.S. policy in a more “realist” direction, promoted as well by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and her State Department colleagues, according to observers here.

“I think Gates is all right,” a key Democratic lawmaker, who is both close to the uniformed military and who strongly opposed the U.S. war in Iraq, told IPS last week. “I think he’s making an important difference.”

That difference has made a growing number of hawks increasingly unhappy, including many neo-conservatives who had grown disillusioned with Rumsfeld’s refusal to increase U.S. forces in Iraq well before he was forced out after last November’s Democratic landslide in the mid-term Congressional elections.

“There’s a rumour going around that Robert Gates is the secretary of Defence,” snorted the lead editorial of the neo-conservative Wall Street Journal. “We’d like to request official confirmation, because based on recent evidence the man running the Pentagon is Democratic Senator (and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman) Carl Levin of Michigan.”

Noting that Pace was “one of Mr. (George W.) Bush’s main Iraq war generals,” the editorial went on, “Mr. Gates seems to think he can succeed as the anti-Rumsfeld by appeasing the likes of Mr. Levin, but his kowtow (in nixing Pace’s second term) only makes Mr. Bush look weaker as a Commander in Chief who can’t even select his own war generals.”

Pace, the first Chairman from the Marines, served under Gen. Richard Myers as vice chairman from October 2001 – that is, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon – until August 2005, when he replaced his predecessor, Gen. Richard Myers. He will retire when his current term expires Sep. 30.

Like Myers, Pace was identified closely with the conduct of Bush’s “global war on terror”, including the military campaign in Afghanistan in late 2001 and the 2003 invasion and subsequent disastrous occupation of Iraq. While Pace was reportedly somewhat more assertive of the military brass’ interests than Myers in the face of Rumsfeld’s notorious bullying and contempt, he was still regarded by many of his peers as too deferential.

He also did not help his case when he said earlier this year that he regarded homosexuality as immoral and, more recently, when he sent a clemency appeal to a judge on behalf of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was sentenced last week to 30 months in prison for lying to federal investigators.

“He had to know that this was not going to make his confirmation hearing any easier,” noted one Congressional aide.

At Gates’ suggestion, Bush has nominated Adm. Michael Mullen, currently chief of naval operations, to replace Pace. Like Gates’ other military appointments, Mullen is considered a realist who, according to the New York Times, “chafed under Mr. Rumsfeld’s management style”, especially his disregard for the advice of the joint chiefs.

Although Mullen has used much the same rhetoric as the administration in describing the current conflict – in a February speech, he described the enemy has “basically evil” and predicted that the “war is going to go on for a long time; it’s a generational war” – most veteran Pentagon observers see him as a professional who, despite his own affiliation with the Navy, is currently most concerned about over-stretching the Army in Iraq.

“He represents a general trend in the administration away from crusaders and toward problem-solvers,” Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, told the Washington Post.

Some observers have compared his views with those of Adm. William Fallon, another Gates choice who has headed the U.S. Central Command since February, and who is reportedly increasingly sceptical of both the administration’s current “surge” strategy in Iraq and its impact on the Army, and of the build-up of naval forces in the Gulf to intimidate Iran.

Both men are expected to play key roles in deciding the fate of the surge – the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to try to pacify Baghdad – as will another sceptic whom Gates recommended, Gen. Douglas Lute, the White House’s new “war czar”, when the administration concludes a full review in September.

While publicly supportive of the surge, Gates himself is seen as a sceptic – although last week for the first time he spoke of a smaller, but “protracted” U.S. military presence in Iraq.

Until his nomination as defence secretary, Gates served on the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG) and, consistent with the ISG’s recommendations, has strongly supported diplomatic engagement with Iran – a position he has held since at least 2004 when he co-chaired with former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski a Council on Foreign Relations task force on U.S. policy toward Tehran.

Since January, Gates has downplayed charges by other administration officials and some military commanders that the Iranian government was supplying weapons, particularly explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), an especially lethal form of roadside bombs, to anti-U.S. forces in both Iran and Afghanistan. It is an issue in which Cheney’s office has reportedly expressed particular interest, apparently as part of an effort to build a case for an eventual military strike against Iran, much as the intelligence and policy units that reported to Rumsfeld did in the run-up to the Iraq war.

In a critical appointment in January, Gates replaced Rumsfeld’s chief intelligence aide, Stephen Cambone, with ret. Lt. Gen. James Clapper, Jr., who worked with Gates when the latter served as deputy national security adviser and subsequently as CIA director under former President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s.

Under Cambone, a long-time Rumsfeld protégé, the Pentagon expanded its intelligence operations significantly, including its authority to conduct covert operations without Congressional oversight.

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