Under Gates, DOD Likely to Soften Policy Toward China

Under Gates, DOD Likely to Soften Policy Toward China

Last week's confirmation hearing for soon-to-be Secretary of Defense Bob Gates was as much political theater as a serious inquiry. Predictably, many of the questions that came Gates' way involved the war in Iraq. Democrats and Republicans alike expect that he will bring a fresh outlook to the nation's problems there. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) cut to the root of the issue by asking Gates if he "was going to be an independent" voice of counsel to the President -- an obvious reference to the close relationship between President Bush and former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Without hesitation Gates responded that he does not intend to be a "bump on a log" in Washington and assured the committee that he doesn't "owe anybody anything."

While Gates likely will make his views heard on any and all issues that require his attention, his assertion that he is not beholden to anyone is dubious, and may affect the direction in which he steers China policy as secretary of defense, an issue that was given short shrift in his confirmation hearings.

Gates is the protégé of Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. It was through Scowcroft's efforts that Gates first became a National Security Council staffer and in that job the former director of central intelligence made many of his connections with current Administration officials -- Condoleezza Rice, for example. Scowcroft's efforts were also crucial in Gates' appointment as President of Texas A&M University -- a job for which Gates admits feeling great fondness. This intimate connection between the two men makes it likely that Gates -- who has little experience in East Asian affairs -- will adopt some of his mentors' policy positions vis-à-vis China.

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