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Bobby Inman: Gates Will Seek Consensus on Iraq

A longtime colleague of Secretary of Defense nominee Robert Gates predicts the former CIA chief will seek to build a consensus among Persian Gulf neighbors -- including Syria and Iran -- on how to handle a deteriorating and dangerous situation in Iraq.

And Bobby Ray Inman -- a retired admiral and intelligence community veteran who has worked with Gates for more than three decades -- says he firmly believes Gates has change in mind.

"I'm comfortable he wouldn't be going into the job unless he had the president's assurances for supporting new policies," Inman told Madeleine Brand.

Gates has served as a member of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III charged with making recommendations on policy.

"So he's obviously been very involved in putting together their ideas of how we should change direction [in Iraq]," Inman says. "He will already have ideas to implement."

In contrast to resigning Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has a reputation for stubbornly pursuing his own course, Inman says Gates will work with the National Security Council on the best way to proceed in Iraq.

"But he'll also make decisions, and he'll make it very clear he expects people to support those decisions," Inman says. "He will be a strong participant at the National Security Council level in making decisions -- but the president makes the final decision."

During his 26-year career in the intelligence field, Gates spent almost nine years on the National Security Council, serving four presidents of both major political parties. Gates served as CIA chief under President George H.W. Bush, but only after a bruising battle in the Senate where he was accused of manipulating intelligence data to fit the foreign-policy objectives of the Reagan administration

Inman says the timing is right for a change at the Pentagon, and applauds the president's choice to follow Rumsfeld.

"[Gates] is a very thoughtful student of international relations," Inman says. "What he reminds me of is President Johnson turning to Clark Clifford [a longtime adviser to Democratic presidents] to replace [Robert] McNamara" as the Vietnam War raged.

At his 1968 confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Clifford said the main U.S. objective in Vietnam was not to defeat the Viet Cong, but to guarantee the right of self-determination to South Vietnamese.

After his short tenure in office, he said in 1969 that peace in Vietnam could not be achieved militarily, and he advocated the gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces.

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Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).