AP Exclusive: Gates to stay at Pentagon

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, will remain in his Cabinet post for at least another year, his spokesman said Thursday.

Gates, who has said he considers himself a Republican, told President Barack Obama in December that he would stay on at least through the end of 2010, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told The Associated Press.

Obama had asked Gates to stay on shortly after Obama won the 2008 presidential election. The move was meant to maintain stability in a time of two wars, and made good on an Obama promise to include Republicans among his close advisers.

Gates’ tenure in the Obama administration was never spelled out, but was assumed to be for at least one year. A year into the Obama administration, Gates appears to be a key adviser and has showed no sign that he intended to be a short-timer.

“They agreed to revisit this issue again later this year,” but the commitment is open-ended, Morrell said.

Gates, 66, “certainly looks forward to one day retiring to his family home in the Pacific Northwest,” Morrell said.

The White House had no immediate comment.

Keeping Gates on for at least a year means he will be in place to manage the expansion of the Afghanistan war through the summer, and to look toward the first U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan planned for the summer of 2011. He also would oversee the halving of U.S. forces in Iraq to about 50,000.

Gates served as President George W. Bush’s defense secretary for two years.

A former CIA chief with long experience in government, Gates was chosen for the defense job as a soothing presence after the turbulent years of Donald H. Rumsfeld. Gates managed the 2007 “surge” that is credited with turning around the Iraq war.

Gates once said it was inconceivable that he would stay on past the close of Bush’s term, and even kept a “countdown clock” on his desk that showed the days until he would be able to return to private life.

In asking Gates to stay initially, Obama was afforded a sort of extended transition in which critical military issues are left in trusted hands while Obama focused most intensely on the nation’s financial crisis. Obama’s assumption of the presidency was the first wartime presidential transition since 1968, when the Vietnam War was under way, and there was extra concern about security vulnerabilities during the handover.

Gates quickly became an insider in the Obama White House, and Obama has accepted Gates’ advice in several prominent areas, including the Afghanistan war buildup and the realignment of the Pentagon budget.

The former spymaster has gained a reputation as a steady pragmatist, but his resume as a government policymaker is not untarnished.

During his 1991 confirmation hearings to be CIA director, Gates was criticized for missing clues about the impending fall of the Soviet Union and for politicizing Cold War intelligence.

Gates was part of the 2006 Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton that was asked to help chart a new course in the flagging war.

A native of Kansas, Gates joined the CIA in 1966. By 1987, he had become acting CIA director when William Casey was terminally ill with cancer.

Questions were raised about Gates’ knowledge of the Iran-Contra arms and money affair, and he withdrew from consideration to take over the CIA permanently. He stayed on as deputy director.


Associated Press writer Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.