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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rumsfeld's Likely Successor Is Soft-Spoken, Tough-Minded

WASHINGTON -- In choosing Robert Gates as his next defense secretary, President George W. Bush reached back to an earlier era in Republican foreign policy, one marked more by caution and pragmatism than that of the neoconservatives who have shaped the Bush administration's war in Iraq and confrontations with Iran and North Korea.

Soft-spoken but tough-minded, Gates, 63, is in many ways the antithesis of Donald Rumsfeld, the brash leader he will replace. He has been privately critical of the administration's failure to execute its military and political plans for Iraq, and has spent the last six months quietly debating new approaches to the war as a member of the Iraq Study Group run by James Baker.

Gates last served in Washington 13 years ago, and Bush made clear Wednesday that he regarded his nominee as someone who would bring new perspective to the final two years of his tenure.

It was under Bush's father that Gates first rose to influence, as deputy national security adviser and then director of central intelligence. He was not part of the group that advised Bush Jr. during his 2000 campaign, and has publicly questioned the administration's approach to Iran, saying in 2004 that its refusal to talk to Tehran was ultimately self-defeating.

"This is a signal that there will be a major effort to avoid confrontation on national security issues," said Dov Zakheim, a former senior official in Rumsfeld's Pentagon who left in 2004. He described Gates as "a pragmatist and a realist" who would be "no lightning rod."

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser under former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and co-author with Gates of the report on Iran policy, said he hoped the appointment would mean "a major corrective in American policy toward the Middle East."

Bobby Inman, a former CIA deputy director and National Security Agency director and an old friend of Gates, called him "a good listener" who, "after he makes up his mind, is very decisive."

He compared Gates' nomination to President Johnson's choice of Clark Clifford, another unflappable old Washington hand, to replace the lightning rod Robert McNamara as defense secretary in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam war.