x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Gates expected to retain defence post during Obama presidency

Robert Gates will stay on as Barack Obama's defence secretary for at least a year, sources close to the two men's discussions said.

Robert Gates will stay on as Barack Obama's defence secretary for at least a year, sources close to the two men's discussions said on Tuesday, a decision that shows the president-elect's desire for continuity at a time when the country is embroiled in two separate wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although Mr Obama is not expected to officially announce his national security team until after the long Thanksgiving weekend, several news outlets reported that Mr Gates was formally offered the post and has accepted it, citing advisers to Mr Obama who wished to remain anonymous until the deal is finalised. The sources also said Mr Obama plans to tap Gen James Jones, a retired marine commandant and supreme commander of Nato, as his national security adviser. The choice of both men brings decades of experience to president's national security brain trust, indicating that the 47-year-old Illinois senator who ran for office as a change agent may be less inclined than many thought to shake things up as president. The retention of Mr Gates, 65, has been rumoured for weeks and would fulfil Mr Obama's pledge to have at least one Republican serve in his cabinet. Mr Gates took over the top defence job in 2006, replacing the outspoken and combative Donald Rumsfeld, who many associated with strategic failures in Iraq. Mr Gates, by contrast, had been openly critical of the administration's insistence that the United States was winning the war and has so far earned a reputation as an apolitical leader with supporters in both parties. But Mr Gates, a former university president and CIA director under George W Bush, has also expressed concerns over Mr Obama's plan to set a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Some worry that differences over an Iraq strategy could cause future friction in Mr Obama's White House. Still, Mr Obama has shown a willingness to include an array of viewpoints among his inner circle. Hillary Clinton, his former political rival, is widely believed to be his top choice for secretary of state, a potential appointment that many have already questioned because of their past disagreements on foreign policy. Even as Mr Obama's security team falls into place, a leading candidate for CIA director, John Brennan, withdrew his name from the running on Tuesday. Mr Brennan, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center and the top intelligence adviser to Mr Obama, blamed his withdrawal on critics who sought to link him to controversial polices of the outgoing president, including interrogation techniques that many have said amount to torture. sstanek@thenational.ae