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January 27, 2007
Gates, The Anti-Rumsfeld

The appointment of Robert Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense pleased many who blamed the long-serving Cabinet officer for the "hard slog" in Iraq, as Rumsfeld himself put it. Among those most pleased are members of the media, who have felt the brunt of Rumsfeld's scorn when they asked questions he deemed ignorant or ill-informed. Julian Barnes of the Los Angeles Times stops just short of writing hosannas to Gates:

If there was any question that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would go to almost any length to demonstrate he was the anti-Rumsfeld, he dispelled it Friday.

In his first-ever Pentagon news conference, Gates' manner and method could not have been more different than those of his controversial predecessor — starting with the room. ...

Stylistically, Gates refrained from scoffing at reporters, from restating their questions on more favorable terms and from challenging the premises of inquiries. He avoided any metaphysical lectures or expositions on the electricity supply of North Korea. Instead, he took the questions as they came, working his way through 32 of them, quickly and concisely.

Well, good Lord, let's not have anyone challenge reporters on the premises of their inquiries! It's not as if journalists ever pose long-winded questions with so many qualify clauses that they begin to resemble legal briefs. Reporters rarely ask brief and unqualified questions at press conferences any more. They're more apt to ask trapping queries along the lines of "Have you stopped beating your wife?", and get snippy when their prey turn the questions and the qualifiers around to avoid their traps.

On the substance, though, Barnes has a point. Gates has moved farther away from Rumsfeld than people may have presumed at the time of his nomination. He supports George Casey for Army Chief of Staff, despite his recent relief as commander in Iraq in favor of David Petraeus, and he strongly implied in his response that Rumsfeld had more to do with the problems in Iraq than Casey. (John McCain has already said he'd vote against the appointment.) He also hinted that despite Rumsfeld's protestations to the contrary, commanders in Iraq did not feel free to request higher troop levels under his administration, and that Gates will be much more receptive to their input.

Gates showed some spark as well. When asked about the competing Senate resolutions scolding Bush for the surge strategy, Gates replied that such efforts "certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries." That got Ted Kennedy sputtering again, calling Gates' comment a "desperate attempt" to prop up Bush's Iraq policies. It also made headlines, and fired up the NRSC Pledge organizers.

Barnes also mentioned that Gates has so far eschewed the Pentagon's briefing room. Hey, if they're not going to use it ....

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 27, 2007 9:33 AM

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