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Source says 'outsider' Gates prepped for confirmation by Cheney's office

Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Friday December 22, 2006
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Newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates may not be as independent from the Bush administration when it comes to matters of defense as some have suggested, considering that one well-placed source tells RAW STORY Gates was briefed for his Senate confirmation hearings by the Office of the Vice President (OVP).

In Part I of RAW STORY's investigation into the nomination of the now-confirmed Gates, intelligence sources expressed both support for and great skepticism of Gates as a pragmatic voice pushing back against an increasingly isolated White House.

But according to a former high ranking CIA official close to the key players, Gates was prepped for his Senate confirmation hearings by high level Cheney staffers, including David Addington, Chief of Staff to the Vice President, and David Wurmser, Cheney's Middle East advisor.

"Cheney's office prepped Gates for the hearings," this official claims. "His guys Wurmser and Addington got [Gates] ready, not the Pentagon."

Cheney swears in the new secretary

Officials at the Department of Defense (DOD) with whom RAW STORY has an ongoing relationship would not respond to questions regarding who briefed Gates. The DOD also did not respond to questions regarding how common it was for the OVP to prep an incoming Secretary of Defense for his Senate confirmation hearings.

Key Democratic Senate members, who declined to go on record, reported that they were unaware Gates had been briefed by Cheney's office.

Gates was sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney on December 18, rather than by the president. This in itself would not be alarming, say sources, if there was not a perceived "tempering" of Cheney's influence over the military. Indeed William Cohen, Secretary of Defense under President Clinton was sworn in by Vice President Al Gore.

But the prepping of Gates by the OVP, combined with the swearing in of Gates by Cheney himself, shows a vastly different relationship with the administration than had been indicated by post-election reports focusing on a rift between the two.

Iran is of concern

In addition, recent comments by Gates and President Bush, as well as military activities in the Gulf, raise serious concern about White House plans for Iran.

In a recent appearance in Baghdad, Gates made remarks that are discouraging to some military and intelligence officials. "We need to make damned sure," said Gates, "that the neighbors understand that we're going to be here for a long time—here being the Persian Gulf."

The President, for his part, has stated that he is considering increasing the size of the US military, not just sending more troops to Iraq, something Gates is also is also reportedly pondering.

According to intelligence officials and foreign policy experts who spoke on the topic off-record, these views, and a possible expansion of a US military presence in the Gulf region, are of great concern to many experts who had hoped that Gates would be more pragmatic about US options toward Iran.

News reports Tuesday confirming the deployment plans for a second gulf carrier make more clear than ever that the US buildup in the Gulf is in direct response to perceived threats from Iran.

Trita Parsi, a Middle East expert at Johns Hopkins University who studied under former Neo-conservative philosopher and economist Francis Fukuyama, says that he finds these developments very "concerning." Parsi says that he is particularly concerned by the placement of ships in the region as a deterrent, coupled with the already increased activity from the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) countries.

"It is coinciding with increased arms sales to the GCC states, as well as efforts by some of these GCC states to get the US to take sides in the Iraqi civil war," Parsi told RAW STORY. "If Washington chooses to do so, the risk for a regional war will be considerable. The Bush Administration's allergy towards talking to Iran is increasing tensions in the region by the minute at a time when things already are too explosive."

Another CIA official reiterates what has been already reported here and in and other publications for the past year, that "Cheney has promised that Iran will be taken care of by spring [of 2007]."

"Selling" the plan

While the plans have been on the table for quite some time, administration attempts to find a "selling point" have reportedly failed on several occasions, most notably when it comes to presenting a convincing argument about an alleged WMD program in Iran. The Joint Chiefs of Staff warned early last year that nothing could be done on Iran until the Spring of 2007, but the Bush administration pushed for action sooner, culminating in a near strike in March of this year.

Since the summer, the Bush administration has been pressuring European nations to impose sanctions against Iran, bypassing the United Nations Security Council. But those EU nations appeared not to be in sync with the US on this approach. This has left the administration with few options for forcing a confrontation on Iran.

Former CIA officials have told RAW STORY that they see the plans to build up a US presence in the Gulf starting early next year as a possible last resort to induce Iran to make a first strike against the US.

But it may be an uphill battle for the executive branch. One expert close to Department of Defense for the last two decades said that Bush and Cheney may want to push for an attack on Iran, but the military will not be likely to sit idly by without protest.