The Robert Gates Riddle

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, December 19, 2006; 1:16 PM

Will Defense Secretary Robert Gates be a voice of realism within the Bush administration? Or will he bend his knee to the ideologues?

Gates offered hints to support both possibilities yesterday at his swearing-in ceremony. But his true allegiance will soon be put to a very public test.

Here's the transcript of the ceremony. President Bush spoke first, then Gates was then sworn in by Vice President Cheney, and then Gates made some remarks.

"This has got to be an exciting time for Bob Gates," Bush said, somewhat inappropriately, given that Gates is taking over at a time of escalating casualties in Iraq.

Bush made it clear what he expects from Gates: "He understands that defeating the terrorists and the radicals and the extremists in Iraq and the Middle East is essential to leading toward peace."

When it was Gate's turn, however, he played both sides of the fence.

On the one hand, he was the voice of reason. Here's the very first thing he had to say: "Thank you. Mr. President, I am deeply honored by the trust you have placed in me. You have asked for my candor and my honest counsel at this critical moment in our nation's history, and you will get both."

But on the other hand, he quickly expressed his fealty to Cheney: "Mr. Vice President, thank you for administering the oath of office. I first worked closely with the Vice President when he was a very successful Secretary of Defense, and I hope some of that may rub off."

He described himself as a fan of his supremely controversial predecessor: "Donald Rumsfeld has devoted decades of his life to public service. He cares deeply about our men and women in uniform, and the future of our country."

But then he unsubtly rejected Rumsfeld's management style: "The key to successful leadership in my view is to involve in the decision-making process early and often those who ultimately must carry out the decisions. I will do my best to do just that."

Gates said he wants to hear unvarnished advice: "I intend to travel quite soon to Iraq and meet with our military leaders and other personnel there. I look forward to hearing their honest assessments of the situation on the ground and to having the benefit of their advice -- unvarnished and straight from the shoulder -- on how to proceed in the weeks and months ahead."

But that unvarnished advice had better be in the context of victory: "All of us want to find a way to bring America's sons and daughters home again. But, as the President has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come."

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