WASHINGTON — President-elect Obama has decided to keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his post, a show of bipartisan continuity in wartime that will be the first instance that a Pentagon chief has been carried over from a president of a different party, Democrats close to the transition said Tuesday.
Obama's advisers were nearing a formal agreement for Gates to stay on for perhaps a year, the Democrats said, and they expected to announce the decision as early as next week, along with other choices for the national security team. The two sides have been working out details on how Gates would wield authority in a new administration.
The move will give the new president a defense secretary with support on both sides of the aisle in Congress, as well as experience with foreign leaders and respect among the senior military officer corps. But two years after President Bush picked him to lead the armed forces, Gates will now have to pivot from serving the commander in chief who started the Iraq war to serving one who has vowed to end it.
In deciding to ask Gates to stay, Obama put aside concerns that he would send a jarring signal after a campaign in which he made opposition to the war a signature issue. Advisers argued that Gates was a pragmatic, apolitical choice who would faithfully carry out his president's instructions.
As Obama moved closer to assembling his national security team on Tuesday, he lost a top candidate for CIA director. John Brennan, an agency veteran who was widely seen as the frontrunner, withdrew from consideration amid concerns that he was linked to controversial intelligence programs authorized by Bush.