Gates, con­tra­dict­ing Bush, says U.S. isn’t win­ning Iraq war

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Rowan Scar­bor­ough

In­com­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates on Dec. 5 said the U.S. is not win­ning in Iraq, but he de­clined to en­dorse any one of scores of new op­tions float­ing in Wash­ing­ton for end­ing the stale­mate and the Amer­i­can troop com­mit­ment.

Mr. Gates’ Iraq as­sess­ment be­fore the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, which later gave its unan­i­mous ap­proval to his nom­i­na­tion, came in re­sponse to a ques­tion from Sen. Carl Levin, Michi­gan Demo­crat, who asked, “Do you be­lieve that we are cur­rently win­ning in Iraq?”

“No, sir,” an­swered the man who is now the pres­i­dent’s chief mil­i­tary ad­viser on over­haul­ing Iraq strat­egy. Mr. Gates later tes­ti­fied that he agreed with Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs chair­man, who has said the U.S. is nei­ther win­ning nor los­ing at this point.

The re­sponse seemed to put the nom­i­nee at odds with the com­man­der in chief.

Pres­i­dent Bush de­clared: “Ab­so­lutely, we’re win­ning” in Iraq dur­ing an Oc­to­ber press con­fer­ence. He added, how­ever, that he was not sat­is­fied with over­all de­vel­op­ments, in­clud­ing a big spike in sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence in Bagh­dad.

Mr. Gates said of the pres­i­dent, “I also be­lieve that he un­der­stands that there needs to be a change in our approach in Iraq, that what we are do­ing now is not work­ing sat­is­fac­to­rily.”

The com­mit­tee later, as ex­pected, voted unan­i­mously to ap­prove the Gates nom­i­na­tion. The full Se­nate ap­proved him on Dec. 6.

The ques­tion dom­i­nat­ing Wash­ing­ton, as the White House weighs a shift in Iraq strat­egy, is whether to in­crease, de­crease or re­ar­range the 135,000 troops on the ground. Mr. Gates­said­he­do­es­not­knowe­nough to­day­tomakearec­om­men­da­tionto Mr. Bush.

Af­ter be­ing con­firmed, he said, he plans to first travel to Iraq to meet com­man­ders and re­ceive their as­sess­ments. The time­line sug­gests that any com­pre­hen­sive change in pol­icy will not come for weeks.

Mr. Gates did sig­nal that he does not fa­vor an im­me­di­ate pull­out, as fa­vored by Rep. John P. Murtha, Penn­syl­va­nia Demo­crat.

“There is a risk that oth­ers look­ing around the world would see that we don’t have the pa­tience and we don’t have the will,” Mr. Gates said. “So I think those are some of the con­cerns that we would face if we ended up leav­ing Iraq in chaos.”

Dur­ing the hear­ing’s lunch break, Mr. Gates noted that press cov­er­age was dom­i­nated by his not-win­ning com­ment.

“I want to make clear that that per­tains to the sit­u­a­tion in Iraq as a whole,” he told Sen. John W. Warner, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can and com­mit­tee chair­man, in the af­ter­noon ses­sion. “Our mil­i­tary forces win the bat­tles that they fight. Our sol­diers have done an in­cred­i­ble job in Iraq, and I’m not aware of a sin­gle bat­tle that they have lost.”

The for­mer CIA di­rec­tor, in sober clipped tes­ti­mony, made a dra­matic over­ture to both Democrats and Repub­li­cans. Un­der ques­tion­ing from Sen. Joe Lieber­man of Con­necti­cut, a Demo­crat who sup­ports the war, Mr. Gates im­plored Congress to agree on a bi­par­ti­san frame­work for win­ning in Iraq, and in the larger strug­gle against Is­lamist ter­ror­ism.

“I think that it is im­per­a­tive in this long war on ter­ror­ism that we face, that could go on for a gen­er­a­tion, that there be a bi­par­ti­san agree­ment,” he said. “Then there would be con­sis­tency on the part of whoever is elected pres­i­dent in 2008 and be­yond, so that we can carry on this strug­gle in a way that they don’t think we’re go­ing to cut and run.”

Mr. Gates clearly dis­tanced him­self from early Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion Iraq pol­icy and the war plan­ning presided over by out­go­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald H. Rums­feld.

“There clearly were in­suf­fi­cient troops in Iraq af­ter the ini­tial in­va­sion to es­tab­lish con­trol over the coun­try,” he tes­ti­fied.

He also la­beled as a mis­take the de­ci­sion by L. Paul Bre­mer, the first U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tor in Iraq, to dis­solve the Iraqi army. Mr. Gates said it left thou­sands of armed men with­out a means to sup­port their fam­i­lies and pushed them to­ward the in­sur­gency. In­stead, the sol­diers should have been sent home — with pay, he said.

Mr. Gates said op­tions from the Iraq Study Group, led by for­mer Sec­re­tary of State James A. Baker III and for­mer Rep. Lee H. Hamil­ton, are “not the last word” and will likely dif­fer from ideas from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Baker-Hamil­ton panel, whose re­port was re­leased Dec. 6, rec­om­mended a grad­ual troop draw­down, but not a spe­cific timetable.

“Frankly, there are no new ideas on Iraq,” said Mr. Gates, 63. “The list of tac­tics, the list of strate­gies, the list of ap­proaches is pretty much out there, and the ques­tion is: Is there a way to put pieces of those dif­fer­ent pro­pos­als to­gether in a way that pro­vides a path for­ward?”

Democrats and Repub­li­cans both eye Mr. Gates as the fresh face in Mr. Bush’s war Cabi­net who will change Iraq strat­egy in the fourth year of fight­ing and more than 2,900 Amer­i­can mil­i­tary deaths. Some on both sides are so happy to have Mr. Rums­feld leav­ing the Pen­tagon that Mr. Gates’ con­fir­ma­tion by the full Se­nate is a cer­tainty.

Al­though Mr. Rums­feld was typ­i­cally feisty at Armed Ser­vices hear­ings as Democrats hurled charges, Mr. Gates gave mea­sured an­swers to gen­er­ally po­lite ques­tions.

Mr. Gates was the first de­fense sec­re­tary nom­i­nee to un­dergo con­fir­ma­tion in time of war since 1968. Then, the Se­nate con­firmed Clark M. Clifford to suc­ceed Robert McNa­mara, who quit af­ter a Viet­nam War pol­icy break with Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son.

“I don’t owe any­body any­thing,” Mr. Gates said in re­sponse to a ques­tion from Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat, on his in­de­pen­dence. He said he did not give up the pres­i­dency of Texas A&M Univer­sity “to come back to Wash­ing­ton to be a bump on a log, and not to say ex­actly what I think.”

He con­fronted two starkly dif­fer­ent views on the com­mit­tee it­self. Mr. Levin is push­ing a date-cer­tain U.S. pull­out, brigade by brigade, be­gin­ning in March. On the other end of the de­bate, Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, wants a sub­stan­tial in­crease in troops in Iraq be­yond the cur­rent 135,000.

Mr. Gates told Mr. McCain he is “very open” to in­crease the Army’s end strength — its con­gres­sion­ally au­tho­rized force. Crit­ics say the Army, with a half-mil­lion ac­tive sol­diers, is stressed to the break­ing point. Army Gen. John Abizaid, the top com­man­der in the Iraq re­gion, told the com­mit­tee last month that he does not want more troops, in or­der to let the Iraqis prove them­selves.

The Baker-Hamil­ton 10-mem­ber bi­par­ti­san group called for di­rect talks with Syria and Iran, two bor­der­ing regimes that sup­port the deadly in­sur­gency in Iraq.

Mr. Gates said he would not rec­om­mend mil­i­tary ac­tion against Syria and came close to rul­ing it out against Iran.

He called war with Iran an “ab­so­lute last re­sort” to stop the Is­lamic repub­lic’s nu­cle­ar­weapons pro­gram, but agreed that Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad is “ly­ing” when he says Tehran is not pur­su­ing an atomic arse­nal.

“I think that we have seen in Iraq that once war is un­leashed, it be­comes un­pre­dictable,” he said.

Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

New views: De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates re­ceived the unan­i­mous ap­proval of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee af­ter tes­ti­fy­ing on Dec. 5.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.