The man who stands between US and new war
Last Updated: 1:50am BST 10/10/2007
Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, has taken charge of the forces in the American government opposed to a US military attack on Iran, writes Tim Shipman.
Pentagon and State Department officials say Mr Gates has set himself up as chief rival to Dick Cheney in a bid to thwart the vice president's desire to bomb the Islamic state.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates
Defence secretary Robert Gates: a force for peace
Those familiar with internal battles in the Bush administration say Mr Gates has eclipsed Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, as the chief opponent of air strikes and is the main reason President George W.Bush has yet to resort to military action.
Pentagon sources say Mr Gates is waging a subtle campaign to undermine the Cheney camp by encouraging the army's senior officers to speak frankly about the overstretch of forces, and the difficulty of fighting another war.
Bruce Reidel, a former CIA Middle East officer, said: "Cheney's people know they can beat Condi. They have been doing it for six years. Bob Gates is a different kettle of fish. He doesn't owe the President anything. He is urging his officers to be completely honest, knowing what that means."
Officials say Mr Gates's strategy bore fruit when Admiral William Fallon, the head of US Central Command, charged with devising war plans for Iran, said last month that the "constant drumbeat of war" was not helpful.
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He was followed by General George Casey, the army's new chief of staff, who requested an audience with the House of Representatives armed services committee to warn that his branch of the military had been stretched so thin by the Iraq war that it was not prepared for yet another conflict.
Gen Casey told Congress the army was "out of balance" and added: "The demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight, and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other potential contingencies."
Mr Gates has forged an alliance with Mike McConnell, the national director of intelligence, and Michael Hayden, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, to ensure that Mr Cheney's office is not the dominant conduit of information and planning on Iran to Mr Bush.
Insiders say Mr Gates has ensured that Mr Bush has seen more extensive studies of the probable negative effects of an attack on Iran than he was privy to before the war in Iraq.
One CIA insider said: "Bush understands that any increase in real military hostilities in Iran right now could have a negative effect. Bob Gates is the only one opposed to it. He's the single person in the US government who has any standing with the White House fighting it."