Gates Expected to Remain at Defense
By Michael D. Shear and Ann Scott Tyson
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates is expected to stay on at the Pentagon for at least a year after Barack Obama takes office, providing the new president with a Republican presence in his cabinet and a familiar face to lead troops during two ongoing wars, sources close to the Obama transition team said.
"The betting money is heading that direction, and it's possible it is a done deal," said one source close to the team. "I think it is going that way -- many do -- including some who are surprised."
Some sources described a "rolling transition," where Gates would remain during an overlapping changeover of key political appointees at the Pentagon. Others said he could remain in the job indefinitely.
Under both scenarios, most of the deputies serving under Gates at the Pentagon would be replaced, the sources said.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell yesterday did not confirm that Gates had agreed to stay, but reiterated that Gates had never ruled out the option. "He has deliberately never precluded the possibility of continuing to serve if needed," said Morrell. "It would be out of character to do so now."
But, he added, Gates's preference "is to return home."
Obama aides declined to comment Tuesday. The president-elect plans to announce members of his national security team early next week, bringing together a bipartisan group that is almost certain to include Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) as Secretary of State and retired Gen. James L. Jones, a former Marine, as national security adviser.
The top candidates to lead other parts of the defense and intelligence establishment were still in flux this week. The contenders for director of national intelligence include retired admiral Dennis Blair, while Obama adviser Susan Rice was said to be a front-runner for ambassador to the United Nations.
Gates's name was first circulated by the Obama team last summer, when former Navy secretary Richard Danzig, an Obama national security adviser, praised the defense secretary and former CIA director, saying he could do "even better" in an Obama administration. When Danzig repeated the comment in October, Obama campaign officials acknowledged a high comfort level with Gates and the need for a smooth transition during wartime.
Obama has also indicated that he expects to have at least one Republican in his Cabinet, and that position has not yet been filled.
Gates is well-respected by Congress and within the military as a non-ideological and decisive leader willing to listen to alternative views. He is credited with putting the Defense Department back on an even keel after the turbulent years of Donald H. Rumsfeld, and with helping to revise the administration's failing policy in Iraq. Gates served for a time on the Iraq Study Group, which issued recommendations in the fall of 2006 on how to revise U.S. war strategy.
"If this is true, it would be a pretty remarkable national security team," a senior Pentagon official said yesterday. Sen. Clinton is seen by the military as a defense moderate who worked hard to educate herself on national security matters as a member of the Armed Services Committee, while Jones has previously served as Marine commandant and NATO commander.
But the combination would likely disappoint some on the left of the Democratic Party who would see it as dulling the sharp break with Bush's aggressive military policies. During the campaign, Gates publicly disagreed with Obama's commitment to a 16-month timetable for withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq.
Other names that have been mentioned as possible defense secretaries are Danzig himself, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), and former Defense official John Hamre, who currently serves as chairman of the Defense Policy Board and was an informal defense adviser to Obama during the campaign.
Meanwhile, a former CIA official who was in the running for a top intelligence post in the Obama administration withdrew his candidacy Tuesday after coming under criticism from several groups who accused him of ties to the agency's interrogation policies.
John Brennan, who held several senior positions during a nearly 25-year stint at the spy agency, notified President-elect Barack Obama of his decision in a brief note, saying he no longer wished to be considered for a job in the intelligence agencies.
Brennan was widely reported to be a contender for either CIA director or director of national intelligence in the new administration. He becomes the first of Obama's leading candidates to be derailed because of his ties to the Bush administration.
"The challenges ahead of our nation are too daunting, and the role of the CIA too critical, for there to be any distraction from the vital work that lies ahead," Brennan wrote. He also defended himself against charges that he has supported torture. "The fact that I was not involved in the decisionmaking process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored."
Brennan, who served as director of the CIA's Terrorist Threat Integration Center before leaving the agency in 2003, called himself a "strong opponent" of many Bush-era policies, including the war in Iraq and the use of coercive interrogation practices. He noted that his criticism of the policies within the CIA had twice prompted the Bush administration to block his promotion to more senior leadership positions.
"I am extremely proud of my 25-year record of intelligence work," he said in the letter.
But those statements contrast sharply with public comments Brennan made during interviews over the last several years. In an interview on PBS' News Hour, he called the CIA's practice of "rendition," or secret abductions, "an absolutely vital tool." In a CBS interview, he said the CIA's interrogation techniques provided "life saving" intelligence.
One human rights activist who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of Obama's cabinet search, said he was not aware of any evidence that Brennan had objected to the controversial practices as other Bush administration officials did.
"There were a lot of people in the Bush administration who objected to it," the official said. "A lot of people risked their careers by saying, 'you are going too far.'"
Brennan, who is now chief executive of The Analysis Corp., a Fairfax-based private intelligence company, had been an early supporter of Obama, and his candidacy was backed by many intelligence insiders.
"It's a tragedy," said one former senior intelligence official after learning of the decision. "There are very few people who are both willing to take the job and truly qualified to do it."
Other possible candidates to head the CIA or take other intelligence posts in the new administration include: Ret. Navy Adm. Dennis Blair, who was chief of the U.S. Pacific Command during the 2001 terrorist attacks and is a China expert who developed a counterterrorism strategy in southeast Asia; Donald M. Kerr, Jr., a former CIA and FBI official who currently is the Bush Administration's deputy director of national intelligence; Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.); and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who chairs an intelligence subcommittee.
Posted at 7:59 PM ET on Nov 25, 2008
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