The specific nature of that work is clearly still in contention. Whatever Gates' company associations over the years, he at least does not have the whiff of belligerent incompetence and chronic boobism that Rumsfeld seemed to bathe in before every public statement. So while Gates is a reliable lackey, that's at least a step up from a terminal fucktard.
But still, what is Gates' actual assignment? The usual smart set punditocracy and beltway insiders seem to think it's to find a respectable -- or at least, the least disreputable -- way of backing out the door, without Iraq then devolving into a Pol Pot-style genocide. They seem to believe that finally -- finally, dammit -- Junior will have to face reality and get with the program. Gates has already established himself in their eyes as a "straight shooter", simply because he did not lie contemptuously through gritted teeth and a cutthroat sneer, which has been SOP for six years running.
I have no idea what makes them think Junior understands or acknowledges reality, and his role in changing its course. Ordinarily, you would be correct in perceiving the nomination of an insider humunculus like Bob Gates as at least a conciliatory nod to political necessity, if not an abject admission of the need for serious policy correction. Finally he gets it, they think to themselves, and go back to sniffing each others' asses.
He clearly does not get it. Junior's idea of "working together" is everybody agreeing to do what he wants to do. Gates is the man who could putatively provide cover for such goals, if he is so willing -- which is the truly unclear part. Since he does not apparently espouse the flaming buffoonery of Rummy, nor is he a pigheaded ideologue like Cheney, Gates is actually something of a wild card.
My uneducated guess is that his role is to smooth Junior's uneasy transition toward (if not actually into) the real world, trying to mitigate collateral damage. And if there comes an occasional opportunity to burnish a nugget of shit into something to put on Fredo's legacy shelf, well, he'd consider that a bonus at this point. But the basic default mode here is to babysit Junior for the duration, so's he doesn't break anything else. Short of locking him in a room with a bag of pretzels, there's not much left to do from their standpoint. They'll kick the can to the next sucker to want the job of catering to nitwit evangelicals and pardoning turkeys -- which, when you get right down to it, is pretty much the same thing.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect to come from Gates' confirmation is the geniuses who vociferously dissented:
I'm sure if Santorum had his druthers, Bolton would be just the guy for the job. Really, though, Li'l Ricky's just getting his street cred going, because he's going to spend the next few years on the rubber-chicken circuit, soaking up laundered honoraria for cheerleading to the inbred CPAC crowd. Bunning, on the other hand, is just an idiot. Some things never change.