Gates: 'We Need to Stay' in Iraq
With President Bush nominating former CIA Director Robert Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, Washington is scrambling to figure out what the change might mean for policy in Iraq. For one thing, it is the first clear signal that Bush is looking for a new path. Gates has been serving on the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton, which is due to release its new strategy for Iraq in the coming weeks.
But perhaps the clearest signs comes from Gates's own recent remarks. Some of his most extensive public comments came a year ago and suggest that his appointment might not bring about the quick withdrawal that some Democrats in Congress have been calling for.
"For better or for worse, we have cast our lot and we need to stay there as long as necessary to get the job done," Gates said May 9, 2005, during a lecture series hosted by Leon Panetta, former chief of staff for President Clinton. "I think it would be a disservice to the young men and women who have given their lives and been casualties in Iraq to leave prematurely and have everything go back to being the way it was."
At the same time, his definition of victory is perhaps less sweeping than the democratic vision sketched out repeatedly by President Bush.
"We all hope that it will be quickthat in a year or two, this government in Iraq will be secure enough that they will be able to invite us to leave and we can do so, leaving behind us a government that can survive and that will be very different from what preceded it," he said.
He also provided a more sober assessment of U.S. military capabilities, particularly with so many U.S. resources tied up in Iraq.
"The truth of the matter is, I think that Iran and North Korea today probably feel somewhat safer than they did two years ago," he said, "because the notion that the United States could fight a full-scale war in Korea right now is just silly. We couldn't."
His remarks also suggest that he is skeptical of Rumsfeld's vision of military transformation, which envisioned a smaller, more agile force. Instead, Gates recalled that in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War, so many U.S. troops were tied up in Saudi Arabia that the United States did not have enough additional capacity to fight a simultaneous war with North Korea. The problem, he suggested, is even worse now.
"We don't have the air power. We don't have the intelligence," he said. "We don't have anything that's big enough to do that with what we have now. So I agree that I think we need to increase our capacity, but I think we also need to changeand go back in terms of the way that capacity is structured."
More of his remarks can be found here.