The Man Who'll Replace Rummy

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President George W. Bush announces former CIA Director Robert Gates as his nominee to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in the Oval Office, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006.

The last time presumptive Pentagon boss Robert M. Gates faced Senate confirmation — for CIA director in 1991— he put a small good-luck charm in his pocket. It was a smooth, white oblong stone he'd picked up while hiking in Washington State's Olympic Range. Gates put it in his pocket to remind him during the tough confirmation hearings that there was life after Washington if his nomination went down to defeat.

Gates is likely to be confirmed as the next Secretary of Defense and would bring to the job intimate knowledge of the White House, the Congress, the CIA and military intelligence. But he might want to dig the stone out of his belongings just in case.

Traditionally, the job of Defense Secretary goes to a person who sets a tone and policy atop the national defense structure while a deputy actually runs the building day-to-day. Rumsfeld tried to do both. Gates would fit the traditional pattern if he is confirmed.

The Kansas-born Gates is a Bush family hand from way back. He served Bush's father as deputy national security adviser and later as CIA director. He was a rare hardliner in the Bush 41 White House, famously suspicious of Mikhail Gorbachev and closer ideologically to then-Defense boss Dick Cheney than to Colin Powell and James Baker.

But Gates was chiefly a lifetime CIA officer, who rose quickly through the agency's Russia and Soviet ranks during the 1970s and 1980s. He was marked for higher office by Reagan CIA Director William Casey but was slowed in his rise by minor involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal in the late 1980s, when Gates was Casey's deputy director at the agency. That misstep cost him the chance to replace Casey during the Reagan years; Bush's father named him CIA director a few years later, after the Iran-contra smoke cleared.

During Gates' second CIA confirmation hearings he was charged with cooking intelligence by CIA insiders and making it more favorable to White House policy makers; Gates rebutted the charges sufficiently to get confirmed. Many Democrats voted against him nonetheless.

After leaving government, Gates wrote a book entitled From The Shadows and became president of Texas A & M University, the home of the George Herbert Walker Bush Presidential Library. Recently, he was named a member of the James Baker-Lee Hamilton commission on Iraq.

Gates is an affable, soft-spoken man who can tell a good story and has a generous sense of humor. He'll need all those skills and more to run a Pentagon amid a war that few believe the U.S. is winning.