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Gates has served Republican and Democratic presidents

WASHINGTON _The man President Bush tapped Wednesday to replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is a veteran national security expert with a reputation for pragmatism who's served six presidents of both parties, including as CIA director under Bush's father.

Robert Gates will need all of his managerial acumen and experience to devise a new approach to the Iraq war. Meantime, he'll face rising bloodshed in Afghanistan, terrorism, threats from North Korea and Iran, and strains on the U.S. military.

Gates, the president of Texas A&M University, has shown a willingness to break with administration policy. He was the co-chair of an independent bipartisan panel that in 2004 called for a political dialogue with Iran in areas of common interests, something the administration didn't accept.

"The secretary of defense must be a man of vision who can see threats still over the horizon and prepare our nation to meet them. Bob Gates is the right man," Bush said.

Gates, 63, a native of Wichita, Kan., left government in 1993. In 2005, he turned down Bush's offer to return as the first director of national intelligence, a position created under post-Sept. 11, 2001, reforms.

"Because our long-term strategic interests and our national and homeland security are at risk, because so many of America's sons and daughters in our armed forces are in harm's way, I did not hesitate when the president asked me to return to duty," Gates said Wednesday in the Oval Office.

If he's confirmed by the Senate, Gates will face the challenge of charting a fresh course in Iraq. He's been a member of a bipartisan commission examining U.S. options in Iraq.

Senior Democrats said they were working with the Senate's Republican majority to hold confirmation hearings as quickly as possible.

Gates is the only career CIA officer to rise from an entry-level position to the agency's top job. He became acting CIA chief in December 1986 when William Casey was hospitalized with cancer.

He withdrew his nomination to replace Casey amid questions about what he knew of the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Reagan administration officials used the profits from secret arms sales to Iran to fund anti-communist guerrillas in Nicaragua.

Gates served Bush's father as deputy national security adviser. He was confirmed as CIA director in November 1991 after hearings in which he again faced questions about the Iran-Contra scandal and charges that he skewed analysis on the Soviet Union to fit Reagan administration policy and curry favor with Casey. The committee concluded that Gates did nothing wrong.

Gates signed up with the CIA in 1966, but served in the Air Force for two years before starting his job at the agency as an intelligence analyst. He joined the National Security Council staff in 1974, returned to the CIA in 1979 and became deputy director of intelligence in 1986.

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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