Gates is being characterized as a "realist," but his record is more complex than that, too. He was an ardent Cold War hawk who did not shrink from moral judgments. "The Soviet Union was an evil empire," Gates wrote in the concluding chapter of his 1996 memoir, "From the Shadows." Gates believed he was simply being skeptical when he insisted that Gorbachev was just another Soviet leader. But others in Washington saw this stand as ideological in nature. Former secretary of state George P. Shultz complained that Gates and the CIA had repeatedly tailored intelligence to fit the policy interests they favored. "You deal out intelligence as you deem appropriate," Shultz complained to Gates in one icy confrontation he recounted in his own memoir. "I feel an effort is made to manipulate me by the selection of materials you send my way."
On America's role in the world and the use of military force, it is hard to detect in Gates's record many far-reaching, principled differences with the present administration. He was deputy national security adviser when the Bush 41 administration dispatched American troops to Panama to overthrow Manuel Noriega. That intervention was, at the time, the largest U.S. military action since Vietnam, and in its essentials -- that is, the use of force to replace a dictator -- it was the closest single precedent one can find for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. On the defense budget, it was the Bush 41 administration that decided there should be no significant "peace dividend" after the Cold War.