Friday, December 07, 2007

The Gates Keeper

The man in charge of America's warmaking machinery is also the best insurance it won't be used against Iran.

By Dan Ephron, Michael Hirsh and Evan Thomas

NEWSWEEK Updated: 3:17 PM ET Dec 1, 2007

Late this summer, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates traveled to the Middle East, to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. At each stop, high-ranking Arab officials anxiously asked him: was the United States preparing to attack Iran? Gates reassured them all that the United States had no plans to do so, at least any time soon. He wasn't dramatic about it, says a Defense Department official who accompanied Gates on the trip but declined to be identified discussing secret talks. "He didn't grab anyone's arm and say, 'I've got Cheney under control, wink, wink'," says this official. But Gates was low-key, straightforward, steadying—calming, even soothing in a dry and matter-of-fact way. A little later, at the end of September, Gates met with the Democratic Senate Policy Committee (something his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, would never do). One of the senators nervously asked if the Bush administration was looking for a reason to bomb Tehran. "It would be a strategic calamity to attack Iran at this time," Gates replied. Sen. Evan Bayh, who was at the meeting, told NEWSWEEK: "You could almost feel the relief around the table. It was, 'Well, I guess he's not here just to repeat the party line.' It was just such a breath of fresh air from Rumsfeld and the 'my way or the highway' attitude of others."

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