December 6th, 2006 04:47 EST
All Options on the Table for Iraq, Defense Nominee Says
Washington –- If confirmed as secretary of defense, Robert Gates said his top priority would be to assist the president in charting a new course in Iraq. He also warned of a regional conflagration should U.S. efforts fail.
“In my view, all options are on the table, in terms of how we address this problem in Iraq," Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee December 5. Gates was nominated by President Bush November 8 to succeed outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
After the hearing the Senate Armed Services Committee voted unanimously to approve Gates' nomination late December 5. The full Senate is expected to take up his nomination December 8.
A 26-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and its only career officer to rise from entry-level position to directorship, Gates spent nine years serving on the National Security Council staffs of four U.S. presidents, both Republicans and Democrats. The experience, he said, taught him the importance of a bipartisan approach to national security. (See related article.)
"We need to work together,” Gates said, “to develop a strategy that does not leave Iraq in chaos and that protects our long-term interests in and hopes for the region.”
Amid escalating violence between the new Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni communities, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John Warner (a Virginia Republican) commended the White House for directing a recent series of internal policy reviews. He also praised the formation of the independent Iraq Study Group co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton. Warner urged Gates, if confirmed, to be “fearless” in giving the president his opinion on how to proceed.
The senior Democrat on the committee, Michigan Senator Carl Levin, agreed with Warner, advising Gates to “speak truth to power and encourage others to do the same.” Levin will chair the committee beginning in January, when his party takes control of the Senate.
IRAQ POLICY SEEN AS UNSATISFACTORY
Gates said that the United States is neither winning nor losing in Iraq, a situation which he said was unsatisfactory. (See related article.)
He said that he is open to a wide range of proposals to help the Iraqi people build a unified, independent and democratic state at peace with its neighbors, and a strong ally in the struggle against terrorism.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Gates said, he would examine all proposals and consult with U.S. combat commanders in the field, as well as with the executive branch and Congress before meeting with the president and members of the National Security Council to offer his thoughts and recommendations. (See related article)
His greatest fear, he said, was the prospect of growing lawlessness and sectarian violence in Iraq leading its neighbors to intervene. “Developments in Iraq over the next year or two will, I believe, shape the entire Middle East and greatly influence global geopolitics for many years to come,” Gates said.
Iran already is involved in Iraq, Hezbollah is training Shiite militants, and by turning a blind eye to the steady flow of arms and fighters, Syria could become much more harmful to stabilization efforts, Gates said. Iraq’s other neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia and even Turkey, also could be drawn into a wider regional conflict.
That is why in Gates’ view the United States must not fail in its mission to help the Iraqis.
He added that regardless of possible U.S. policy changes Iraqi authorities must press ahead with political reconciliation, and the United States must continue to help train and support Iraqi security forces. (See related article.)
"It seems to me that the United States is going to have to have some kind of presence in Iraq for a long time,” Gates said, “but it could be with a dramatically smaller number of U.S. forces than are there today.”
For more information, see Iraq Update.
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