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A new chief at the Pentagon

As secretary of Defense, Robert Gates may be able to shape a bipartisan approach on Iraq and the war on terror.

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After Secretary of Defense-designate Robert Gates assumes his new post later this month, he may find it hard to alter US military weapons programs or the structure of US forces. In essence, the Pentagon is a huge ship that changes direction slowly – and the Bush administration has only two years left to run.

Nor will US options in Iraq change magically when he is sworn in 10 days from now. Dr. Gates brings with him no secret ideas that the Iraq Study Group or other strategic reviews may have missed.

Yet the moment Gates steps into his expansive new office in the Pentagon's outer "E" ring, he could have a profound effect on Washington. The reason: He's not Donald Rumsfeld. As a low-key figure whose nomination met with approval among both Democrats and Republicans, Gates might find it easier than his predecessor would have to shape a more bipartisan approach to Iraq and the overall war on terrorism.

"Is there anybody who doesn't think he's a good choice?" says James Jay Carafano, a senior fellow in national security at the Heritage Foundation. "It's an enormous opportunity to get the politics out of this."

What may change immediately after Gates takes up his post is the atmosphere in the Pentagon's top echelons.

Rumsfeld famously challenged the military bureaucracy, issuing memos, requests for information, and other internal documents with a blizzardlike intensity. By way of contrast, cannonades of paperwork don't appear to be part of Gates's bureaucratic style.

Throughout his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Gates emphasized that he would have a lot of listening to do in the early stages of his new job. He'd have to consult with military commanders, he said, before deciding what should be done in Iraq.

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