Gates expected to push Israel-Palestinian talks

Despite optimism, Israel supporters concerned that proposed defense secretary may reignite calls for active US engagement towards end of negotiations.

robert gates 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
robert gates 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The nomination of Robert Gates as the next US secretary of defense was met in the US with restrained optimism that new blood would be able to bring different ideas to the Middle East. But at the same time, supporters of Israel were quietly raising concerns that Gates's associations with members of President George H. W. Bush's foreign policy team would reignite calls for active US engagement towards the end of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Gates was introduced Wednesday as the replacement for Donald Rumsfeld, who resigned following Democratic congressional victories that many said were part of national frustration with the pace and execution of the US-led war in Iraq. Democrats won control of the House of Representatives and won the Senate as well, with James Webb eventually beating incumbent George Allen in the last remaining undecided election in Virginia. Gates was described Thursday as a pragmatist, and someone who could bring a dose of realism into a Pentagon that has been long perceived as flooded with idealist neoconservatives. While he worked as the deputy national security adviser under Brent Scowcroft before being confirmed as director of central intelligence in 1991, Gates is not considered to be an ideologue. His CIA career makes him more of a policy implementation, analysts said, who can effectively manage a fragmented Pentagon. He is, however, seen as an alternative to the neoconservative viewpoint that Rumsfeld and other former Pentagon officials articulated. Analysts began combing through his writings, including a report on the future of Iran he published in 2004 for the Council on Foreign Relations, co-authored with former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. In it, he called for dialogue between the United States and Iran with realistic expectations. "A 'grand bargain' between Iran and the United States is not a realistic or achievable goal," the report said. Gates was also part of the Iraq Study Group - headed by former secretary of state James Baker and former congressman Lee Hamilton - that is expected to release new ideas for the implementation of the Iraq war. Analysts said Thursday that Gates will likely put a lot of stock in the committee's recommendations. "The issue is will the report be narrowly focused on Iraq or broader in scope, something like the initial post Gulf War effort to have comprehensive peace," said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. Pro-Israel analysts said Thursday that there was a concern that Gates and the Iraq Study Group would push the Bush administration to get Israel to bargain with the Palestinian leadership, as an incentive for Arab states to be engaged on Iraq. But while the analysts are watching Gates's confirmation, they expect Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking to be low on his priority list, given the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The Bush administration's use of intelligence on Iraq has been a central theme of criticism from Democrats who say the White House stretched faulty intelligence from US spy agencies to justify invading Iraq in 2003. Melvin Goodman, a former CIA division chief for Soviet affairs, testified during Gates's CIA confirmation hearing that Gates politicized the intelligence on Iran, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. "Gates's role in this activity was to corrupt the process and the ethics of intelligence on all of these issues," Goodman said. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, called Gates's selection troubling, given that history. "What we need going forward in Iraq is straight talk about the challenges we face," he said. Yet John Hamre, a former deputy secretary of defense during the Clinton administration and member of the Iraq Study Group with Gates, predicted a smooth confirmation process. "He will get very strong support on both sides of the aisle," Hamre said. "He's intellectually honest and fair." Gates has taken a much lower profile since leaving the CIA and the government in 1993. He joined corporate boards and wrote a memoir published 10 years ago, From The Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War. Confirmation hearings are expected to begin for Gates before the new Congress takes office in January, but is still expected to be a referendum on the current status of the war and its future. AP contributed to this report. Matthew E. Berger is a reporter for Congressional Quarterly.