Skip to comments.Elite panel ready to map plan on Iraq
Posted on 11/12/2006 9:07:03 AM PST by TexKat
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq, voiced confidence Saturday that the United States would not abandon its mission in this violence-racked country amid a post-election re-evaluation of Iraq strategy. "The weeks and months ahead will require courage and determination," Casey said at a Veterans Day naturalization ceremony for 75 U.S. troops at Baghdad's Camp Victory. "But succeed we will."
His comments were among his first public statements since the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last week.
Washington political insiders have speculated that Casey and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who was also at the ceremony, could leave their posts following the Republican Party's defeat Tuesday at the polls. Both men quickly left Saturday's ceremony after reading prepared statements.
In Washington, meanwhile, the re-evaluation will begin in earnest Monday. On that day, a panel of prestigious Americans will begin deliberations to chart a new course on Iraq, with the goal of trying to stabilize the country with a different U.S. strategy and possibly begin withdrawing more than 140,000 troops.
Tuesday's dramatic election results, widely seen as a repudiation of the Bush Iraq policy, have thrust the 10-member, bipartisan Iraq Study Group into an unusual position, similar to that played by the 9/11 commission.
This panel, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, may play a decisive role in reshaping the U.S. position in Iraq, according to lawmakers and administration officials.
Those familiar with the panel's work predict the ultimate recommendations will not appear novel and that the country has few, if any, good options remaining. Many of the ideas reportedly being considered - more aggressive regional diplomacy with Syria and Iran, greater emphasis on training Iraqi troops or focusing on a new political deal between warring Shiite and Sunni factions - have been tried or have limited chances of success, in the view of many experts on Iraq.
Baker is also exploring whether a broader U.S. initiative in tackling the Arab-Israeli conflict is needed to help stabilize the region.
Given the grave predicament the group faces, its focus is now as much on finding a political solution for the United States as a plan that would bring peace to Iraq. With Republicans and Democrats so bitterly divided over the war, Baker and Hamilton consider a consensus plan of key importance, according to those who have spoken with them.
That could appeal to both parties. Democrats would have something to support after a campaign in which they criticized Bush's Iraq policy without offering many specifics of their own. With support for its Iraq policy fast evaporating even within its own party, the White House might find in the group's plan a politically acceptable exit strategy or cover for a continued effort to prop up the new democratically elected government in Baghdad.
"Baker's objectives for the Iraq Study Group are grounded in his conviction that Iraq is the central foreign policy issue confronting the United States and that the only way to address that issue successfully is to first build a bipartisan consensus," said Arnold Kanter, who served as undersecretary of state under Baker during the first Bush administration.
But the election may have made the job even tougher by emboldening the panel's Democrats, said people familiar with the panel's deliberations. The election "sent a huge signal," said one of these sources, who added that the panel is trying to come to grips with whether the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can solve Iraq's problems.
While Baker has been testing the waters for some time to determine how much change in Iraq policy the White House will tolerate, Hamilton faces the perhaps now even-more-difficult challenge of cajoling Democrats like Leon Panetta, White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, and power broker Vernon Jordan to sign on to a plan that falls short of a phased troop withdrawal, the position of many congressional Democrats.
In a brief interview, Hamilton conceded the obstacles ahead and emphasized that no decisions had been made. "We need to get [the report] drafted, number one," Hamilton said. "We need to reach agreement, and that may not be possible."
When formed last spring by Congress, the Iraq Study Group was little known beyond elite circles of the U.S. foreign policy world. Now its work has become perhaps the most eagerly awaited Washington report in many years - recommendations are now expected early next month - with many lawmakers of both parties saying they are looking for answers to the troubled U.S. mission in Iraq.
Indeed, the White House, which had been skeptical the group will have much new to say, has been notably more receptive since the election.
"If these recommendations help bring greater consensus for Republicans and Democrats, I think that could be very helpful," said Dan Bartlett, counselor to Bush, though he added, "If there were a rifle-shot solution we would have already pulled the trigger."
Bush, Vice President Cheney and Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, will meet with members of the commission Monday.
During three days of deliberations, the panel also will hear by video link from British Prime Minister Tony Blair - who sources said has been anxious to talk to the group - as well as consult with the Democratic shadow foreign policy Cabinet, including former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Sandy Berger, national security adviser.
Iraq goal same but Bush open to tweaking course
Sun Nov 12, 2006 11:54am ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is ready to make "course adjustments" in Iraq, and will reach out to both parties in Congress, but it has not changed its overarching goal of democracy and stability, the White House said on Sunday.
"The president has always been interested in tactical adjustments, but the ultimate goal is the same, which is success in Iraq," White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
Bush has "always been ready to make course adjustments. Nobody can be happy with the situation in Iraq right now. ... It's clearly time to put fresh eyes on the problem," he said.
Robert Gates, Bush's pick to replace Donald Rumsfeld heading the Pentagon, will provide that perspective, Bolten said.
Days after Democrats took control of Congress in midterm elections, the increasingly unpopular leader faces a radically different political landscape.
Bolten said the Bush administration was looking forward to recommendations from the Iraq Study Group and from top general Peter Pace.
Bolten was cool to the idea of dividing a more and more fractious Iraq into separately governed areas, but said some degree of federal power-sharing could be helpful.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bolten added, would continue to be a source of tension in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. But the Bush administration would not put forward any new peace initiatives until the time was right, he said.
Bolten also said the administration was still hoping to overcome Democratic opposition to United Nations envoy John Bolton. Some lawmakers were reconsidering their opposition to him, and the White House hoped Congress would confirm him before his temporary appointment expired, said Bolten.
"We're going to be making the case to the members," he said.
It might be out of his hands if the People's Party of surrender monkeys have their way. Don't look the to GOP to stand up and put up much of a fight either.
Two and a half years of hard work and sacrifice right down the shitter.
Hague issues warning over Iraq
Nov 12 2006
Hopes of involving Iran and Syria in developing a new policy for ending the violence in Iraq could prove "naive", shadow foreign secretary William Hague warned.
The option of opening talks with the neighbouring states is expected to be discussed by Prime Minister Tony Blair when he gives evidence to a US inquiry on Tuesday.
It is one of two options believed to be under consideration by the Iraq Survey Group being led by former US Secretary of State James Baker.
Mr Hague welcomed the Prime Minister's engagement with the panel, stressing the need for "heavy British involvement" in the reassessment of current thinking. But warned that the involvement of "axis of evil" states was not a short-term option at a time when Iraq was "tipping in the wrong direction".
"There should be a reassessment going on because Iraq at the moment, which could still tip either way, is tipping in the wrong direction," he told BBC1's Politics Show. "It is very important that there is heavy British involvement in that reassessment, that it is not just an American process."
He added "I think we have to make the most of our friendships and build on our friendships with the moderate Arab nations of the Middle East. Syria and Iran are a more difficult proposition. Of course it would be excellent if they cold be involved at some stage in the future in guaranteeing what happens in Iraq. It may naive to think that that could happen in the coming weeks and months."
Mr Blair will talk via video link to the Iraq Study Group a day after President George Bush holds discussions with the bi-partisan panel. The war has been blamed as a key factor in the self-confessed "thumping" Mr Bush's Republicans took in this week's mid-term elections.
The resignation of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - and replacement by former CIA chief Robert Gates - has intensified speculation a change of policy may be imminent. Mr Gates is a member of the Iraq Survey Group.
Downing Street has said Mr Blair would ensure Mr Baker and his colleagues were "fully briefed on UK ideas" when he spoke to them but would not reveal what he would tell them in advance.
Mr Hague called for an open debate on the future strategy options as part of discussions of the Queen's Speech, beginning in the Commons on Wednesday.
It's actually three and a half years. I've been here for three of 'em.
Bush had better get ready to use the VETO stamp. The rats don't have the 2/3 majority they need to override.
The rats did NOT get a mandate on Tuesday.
U.S. Democrats say will push for Iraq withdrawal
12 Nov 2006 16:26:39 GMT
By Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Democrats, who won control of the U.S. Congress, said on Sunday they will push for a phased withdrawal of American troops from Iraq to begin in four to six months, but the White House cautioned against fixing timetables.
"First order of business is to change the direction of Iraq policy," said Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who is expected to be chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in the new Congress.
Democrats will press President George W. Bush's administration to tell the Iraqi government that U.S. presence was "not open-ended, and that, as a matter of fact, we need to begin a phased redeployment of forces from Iraq in four to six months," Levin said on ABC's "This Week" program.
Bush has insisted that U.S. troops would not leave until Iraqis were able to take over security for their country, and has repeatedly rejected setting a timetable for withdrawal because, he says, that would only embolden the insurgents.
The White House said, however, that Bush is open to new ideas. Bush will meet on Monday with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that is expected to recommend alternative policies in its final report.
A suicide bomber killed 35 people at a police recruiting center in Iraq on Sunday in the bloodiest attack in months against recruits.
More than 2,800 American troops have been killed in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the unpopular war was a key factor in last week's elections in which Bush's Republican Party lost majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten said it was important that any action be taken in a way to ensure that Iraq can succeed and have a democratic government that can sustain and defend itself.
'OPEN TO FRESH IDEAS'
"It's hard for me to see how that can be done on a fixed timetable," Bolten said on ABC's "This Week" program. "But the president's open to fresh ideas here. Everybody's reviewing the situation."
Bush has asked Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, to conduct a review at the Pentagon of Iraq strategy, and other national security agencies to do similar reviews, Bolten said.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said "we need to redeploy," but that the decision should be made by military officers in Iraq.
He said on "Face The Nation" program on CBS that he would not insist on a specific date for drawing down troops, but that a withdrawal should start within the next few months.
The White House says Bush is not to receive final recommendations from the Iraq Study Group -- led by James Baker, a former secretary of state with close ties to the Bush family -- in the Monday meeting.
Bush chose a member of that panel, former CIA Director Robert Gates, to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose resignation was announced the day after elections gave control of Congress to Democrats for the first time since 1994.
Sen. Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat who is expected to head the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was inclined to support Gates, whose nomination requires Senate approval.
"I know some of his views on Iraq. I know he wasn't of the Rumsfeld school. And to put it very, very bluntly, as long as he's not there, Rumsfeld is there," Biden said on ABC.
Biden called for an international conference on Iraq, that would include Iran, Syria and Turkey. (Additional reporting by Missy Ryan)
Why would the GOP pols stand up?
The GOP/Conservative voters just surrendered Iraq to OBL.
Aide: Bush open to commission's ideas for Iraq
Created: 11/12/2006 11:15:53 AM
Updated: 11/12/2006 11:16:35 AM
WASHINGTON - President Bush's chief of staff said Sunday "nobody can be happy with the situation" now in Iraq and the White House would consider the idea of U.S. talks with Syria and Iran if a blue-ribbon commission recommended that.
President Bush and his national security team planned to meet Monday with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which is trying to develop a new course for the war.
"We're looking forward to the recommendations," said Josh Bolten, Bush's top aide. With Democrats seizing majorities in the House and Senate in last week's elections and urging a change in Iraq policy, Bolten said the White House is "looking forward to a dialogue with bipartisan leaders in Congress."
Christian news and commentary at: sacredscoop.com ...
White House hopes Gates can heal government rift
By David E. Sanger and Scott Shane / The New York Times
Published: November 12, 2006
WASHINGTON: President George W. Bush selected Robert Gates as his new defense secretary in part to close a long-running rift between the Defense Department and the State Department, which has hobbled progress on Iraq, keeping the two agencies at odds on issues ranging from reconstruction to detaining terrorism suspects, White House officials and members of Gates's inner circle said.
While Gates, a former director of the CIA, had long been considered for a variety of roles, over the past two months Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, quietly steered the White House toward replacing Donald Rumsfeld with Gates, who worked closely with Rice under President George H.W. Bush. One senior participant in those discussions, who declined to be identified, said "everyone realizes that we don't have much time to get this right" and the first step is to get "everyone driving on the same track."
White House officials said that goal may be difficult to accomplish in the seventh year of an administration. Rice and Rumsfeld never managed to resolve their differences, especially after their arguments over the handling of the occupation broke into public view in the late summer of 2003. As national security adviser during Bush's first term, Rice was unable to halt a war between the State Department and the Pentagon that put senior officials in the two departments in a state of constant conflict.
The question is whether it is too late to achieve Bush's goal of a stable and democratic Iraq, even if Gates and Rice are able to work together as smoothly in altering policy as they did 15 years ago on a very different kind of problem, managing the American response to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Today in Americas
Incoming Democrats put populism before ideology
Democrats aim to save power of Iraq agency
Letter From Washington: After Republican rout, who is to take the lead?A few members of the Iraq Study Group - the commission created in March at the urging of members of Congress, from which Gates stepped down Friday - have wondered aloud in recent days whether the insurgency and sectarian conflict may be too far advanced to reverse. The group will consult with the British prime minister, Tony Blair, by video Tuesday and is due to present recommendations to the White House and Congress in December.
And while Gates, who faces Senate confirmation hearings at roughly the same time, is considered far less combative and contrarian than Rumsfeld, he has a long-ago history of clashing with secretaries of state, most notably George Shultz, who objected to Gates's hawkish views of the Soviet Union and once tried to have him fired.
He is being thrust into the job at a moment when Democrats, newly empowered by their control of the House and the Senate, are promising investigations into the conduct of the war in Iraq and demanding a bigger voice in policy.
spellcheck is our friend! :)
You're right, my bad. My unit crossed the berm with 3ID at 0700 on the first day of the war. My how time flies. Been back once and will probably go back next year for a three-peat if the surrender monkeys have not already pulled us out and handed the country back to the enemy.
We are waiting, counting down the time here as well.
Dear God in heaven...
Who cares what these unelected professional fatcats want? The complaint of republicans was tying our troops hands and let them fight. I think these people are deliberately misreading the election. Disgusting.
Words. Where is his initiative to disarm the militias - particularly Al Sadr's?
I Dew Spell Chek I Dew! Now what fun would that be if we all spell checked? It'd be just like a bunch of clones- everyone the same- all spelling perfectly- no diversity, no sppontenaity. Besides, having to figutre out what someone is saying by excersizning the brain keeps the alzheimers blues away.
Every Democrat that President Bush chose for the Iraq Study Group has strong ties to Bill Clinton: Vernon Jordan who recommended Monica for her job; Leon Panetta, Clinton's Chief of Staff, William Perry, Clinton's Secretary of Defense, Charles Robb, Senator from Virginia and Clinton's primary legislative water carrier in the Senate and Lee Hamilton, Clinton's primary legislative water carrier in the House.
I can somewhat understand having some Democrats in the Iraq Study Group but why are they all CLINTON Democrats?
That's the response to a setback? Give up? Throw in the towel? Write it all off as a failure? Well done, MSM!
I sure hope you're in the minority or we're toast as a nation.
I won't give up and I won't stop trying to do the best I can. I hope there are others here who feel the same way.
God help those Iraqis who cast their lot with us. They will be slaughtered just like the Vietnamese who stood with us.
Thank you for your service. The 3ID kicked ASS! I had the pleasure of working with them on their second rotation at Taji in early '05. ;-)
NEWSWEEK COVER: Father Knows Best
Sunday November 12, 10:42 am ET
Bush 41 and the Rumsfeld-Gates Swap at the Pentagon: 'His Fingerprints Are All Over This,' Says Friend
Baker-Bush 41 Adviser and Co-Chair of Iraq Study Group-Cautions New Defense Leadership Will Not Bring Quick Fix: 'This is Not a Precooked Deal ... and There is no Magic Bullet'
NEW YORK, Nov. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- While George H.W. Bush denies helping orchestrate the replacement of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with Robert M. Gates -- an adviser from his own administration, a Bush friend tells Newsweek, "his fingerprints are all over this." The friend, a veteran of previous GOP administrations, explains further: "This would have been done by nuance and indirection. Forty-one would have said to 43, 'One of the people who I've been talking to who might be helpful is Bob Gates'." In Newsweek's November 20 cover package, "Father Knows Best," (on newsstands Monday, November 13), a team of editors and correspondents-including Editor Jon Meacham, Editor-at-Large Evan Thomas, Senior White House Correspondent Richard Wolffe, Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff, National Security Correspondent John Barry and Political Correspondent Jonathan Darman -- reports on the president's decision to bring in members of his father's administration to chart a new course in Iraq, analyzes the complex histories of those involved and looks at other figures that will take on new prominence in Washington in the wake of the Congressional elections.
It has been widely speculated that James A. Baker III, the elder Bush's secretary of State, now co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, may also have been instrumental in making the Rumsfeld-Gates switch. He was spotted with both Bush father and son, as well as Gates, in early October at the launching of the new aircraft carrier, USS George H.W. Bush. But Baker, like Bush, is not likely to have been plotting in public. "For a meeting like that," says a former Baker aide, "the maximum number of people involved is two." When asked whether he played a part, Baker tells Newsweek, "You don't have a virgin here," meaning he wasn't about to spill any secrets. (The White House says that Baker had nothing to do with the Pentagon swap.) Baker also warned against getting too optimistic about some sudden deliverance from the agonies of Iraq. "Look," he protested. "This is not a precooked deal. And there is no magic bullet."
For his part, the president was said to be indifferent to the press chatter about the decision to bring in his father's team members. "I don't care," he told his advisers when they asked him, the morning after the elections, how he wanted to deal publicly with the suggestion that he was picking one of his father's advisers. "He doesn't think the neocons ran him over a cliff and now he has to go to Dad," says a senior Bush aide. "It's not the way he sees this. He wants the best and brightest."
The meeting where President Bush decided to bring in Gates was itself a well-guarded secret. On the Sunday before the elections, Gates, the president of Texas A&M University and the deputy national-security adviser and CIA director in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, drove two hours from College Station, Texas, to the small town of McGregor, where he switched from his own car to one driven by White House chief of staff Josh Bolten. Gates was quietly taken to President George W. Bush's office on his ranch at Crawford, where the two talked long enough to convince Bush that Gates was the man to replace Rumsfeld. Guests at the presidential ranch, assembled for the 60th birthday of First Lady Laura Bush and the First Couple's 29th wedding anniversary, didn't even notice Gates's coming and going.
Once he assumes his new post, Gates is likely to welcome the Iraq Study Group recommendations as if they were his own, while Rumsfeld would have been a surefire obstacle to whatever Baker and the team proposed, reports Newsweek. Baker signed on to the study group only after getting Bush 43's personal assurance that the White House wanted him to take the job. (According to a source knowledgeable about the study group who requested anonymity discussing sensitive negotiations, Baker also received a backstage promise that Rumsfeld would stay out of the way as the commissioners interviewed generals and diplomats.) "There are going to be some things in this report that the administration is not going to be excited about," Baker tells Newsweek, choosing his words carefully.
Elsewhere in the cover package, Darman reports on how Democrat Nancy Pelosi, soon to be the first female Speaker of the House, developed her strategy for claiming the Speaker's gavel by consulting corporate America-not your typical liberal play. After the party's disastrous defeat in the 2004 elections, she began casting around for fresh ideas on how the Democrats could reintroduce themselves to the American people. "I decided to go to the private sector," she tells Newsweek, "and ask them how to become No. 1." Through her staff, Pelosi found her way to a group of corporate-image consultants including high-tech entrepreneur Richard Yanowitch, computer-software marketer John Cullinane and Jack Trout, a marketing strategist who'd worked with big corporate clients like Merck and IBM. "I specialize in differentiation," Trout says. "I told her, 'That's your problem-you haven't found a way to differentiate the party from the Republican Party in a clear, simple way'." Trout encouraged Pelosi to take advantage of the weak points in Karl Rove's base-driven Republican strategy. "You've got to go the opposite way," he told her. "It's Marketing 101. Say 'We're about good governing for all, not a privileged few ... ' Bring back the big-tent idea."
(Read entire cover package at http://www.Newsweek.com.)
Realism and negativity are not the same thing. You will note that I said make what progress that you can, but everyone in theater needs to factor in what has happened in the US.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger Replaces Robert Gates on Iraq Study Group
November 10, 2006
Former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger has replaced former CIA Director Robert M. Gates as a member of the Iraq Study Group, study group co-chairmen James A. Baker, III and Lee H. Hamilton said on November 10. Gates resigned in a conversation with Baker, explaining that he felt he could no longer serve on the Iraq Study Group after President George W. Bush announced his nomination Wednesday as the Secretary of Defense. Both Baker and Hamilton praised Gates efforts on the Iraq Study Group, saying he had made significant contributions during his eight months as a member.
Not to worry... we have ALWAYS had these types. More importantly, there are more of us than of "them"!
The Iraq Study Group is a bipartisan group of prominent Americans supported by four premier institutions. It is led by co-chairs James A. Baker, III, the nations 61st Secretary of State and Honorary Chairman of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, and Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman and Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
The other members of the study group include: Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Edwin Meese III , Sandra Day O'Connor, Leon E. Panetta, William J. Perry, Charles S. Robb, and Alan K. Simpson.
My sentiments exactly. What CAN they be thinking?
Congressional cat-fight funding debate begins in four months. The new emergency funding at reduced level will be in the electronic pipeline in six months.
Dear God in heaven...
Dear God is right. Can Cheney save us? He may be the only voice of reason left in that place. I am miserably disappointed by all this. I still hope Bush will pleasantly surprise us. Praying hard.
And thank goodness for that. They sure are doing a lot of whining on this thread tonight. Wonder what they actually do to help the conservative movement?
I mean, besides whine and throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble.
Let's get 'em some white flags.
Those are the same people who got us in this mess in the first place!
I would think even the democrats have to know this is unthinkable. Even if it's for the baser reason of them wanting to survive in the majority in '08. They can't seriously believe that not tending to this will assure power? Their main concern, as it relates to maintaining power, has got to be that they can match President Bush's record on keeping us safe, i.e. not taking another hit.
To eliminate our presence in Iraq, after what it took to establish it, can't be what they're thinking. Unless they are so disengaged from the truth (which is possible) that they are completely whacked.
One of the democrats problems are the people they have ready to assume command of the committees. I think Rangle gets the banking committee, and he is an unreflecting idealogue who can really impact the funding of the war effort. Not good.
Pessimists always call their views "realism."
I don't need anyone to tell me what to do. We're not stupid over here - well, unless you believe John Kerry.
We're committed to making this work, though and we're not going to give up because of a setback.
Y'all go on ahead and doom the country and plan the big failure and stuff. Just don't be offended if we choose not to join you.
A New Man. Next, A New Plan For Iraq?
Rumsfeld's exit opens the door to fresh thinking
By Anna Mulrine and Kevin Whitelaw
Posted Sunday, November 12, 2006
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld didn't appear on any ballot last week, but the war that he and President Bush have waged in Iraq emerged as perhaps the most decisive factor in the Republican defeat. After a dreadful year of worsening sectarian violence and revenge attacks, polls have clearly shown a diminishing faith in the Bush administration's ability to turn things around in Iraq-nearly 6 in 10 voters said they disapprove of the war.
President Bush wasted no time in announcing Rumsfeld's resignation (though insisting that the departure was planned regardless of the election's outcome). The nomination of former CIA Director Robert Gates for the Pentagon post is a clear signal that the White House is trying to shake off its history of "stay the course" rhetoric. But while Bush's motivation might have more to do with politics than with military strategy, Gates could make a real difference. A member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group led by former Rep. Lee Hamilton and former Secretary of State James Baker, who served in the first President Bush's administration, Gates could be a critical bridge between the White House and the clutch of foreign-policy graybeards many Republicans and Democrats are looking to as a lifeline a last-gasp chance to reverse the downward trend in Iraq.
Shifting gears. The choice of Gates eases the way for Bush to latch on to at least some of Baker's proposals, due out soon. Baker's group could point to a strategy that "is a little different or totally different," Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who next month will become the No. 2 commander in Iraq, tells U.S. News. In any event, he adds, "it's going to be very much a factor."
The Baker report is expected to cement a shift in emphasis from creating a model democracy in the Middle East to simply achieving stability in Iraq-still no small feat. "Both the American people and the Congress don't want this to last a lot longer," says a senior U.S. military official. "You'll always get the party line of 'stay the course,' but everybody realizes that it's to a point." The question of an American troop surge, advocated by Republican Sen. John McCain, will come to the fore as well. "Do we need more people, or do they become a greater irritant?" asks Odierno. "There comes a time when you wear out your welcome."
Challenges. There are no magic bullets in Iraq. The underlying problem is that America's ability to change the dynamic there appears to be continually diminishing. The Sunni insurgents remain disturbingly strongOctober was the deadliest month for U.S. soldiers in nearly two years. And troops have been unable to quell the sectarian violence. A vaunted security plan for Baghdad has failed to stem the bloodshed, Iraqi security forces remain unreliable, and U.S. officials have been unable to persuade Iraq's government to confront the Shiite militias or their leaders. The White House was particularly discouraged by what National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley found on his recent trip to Iraq. "The situation there is as complex as it's ever been and is getting more complicated every couple of weeks," says a senior administration official.
Gates would be greeted at the Pentagon by "one of the most monumental challenges ever facing a secretary of defense," says Larry Wilkerson, a retired colonel who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Gates is known more for being a good manager and a consensus builder than for his out-of-the-box thinking. His career in government began 40 years ago when he joined the Central Intelligence Agency as an analyst. A renowned Soviet expert, he would be reunited with many former Bush 41 colleagues. In a speech last year, Gates signaled the need for patience in Iraq. "We need to stay there," he said, "as long as necessary to get the job done."
But the Cold War veteran would represent a return to the philosophy of "realpolitik" in foreign policy. In the same speech, he laid out a definition of victory that is much less sweeping than the one described by Bush administration's early rhetoric about bringing democracy to Iraq. "We all hope that it will be quick-that in a year or two, this government in Iraq will be secure enough that they will be able to invite us to leave," Gates said. "And we can do so, leaving behind a government that can survive."
Gates could help usher in a new diplomatic outreach in the region, reversing the administration's refusal to engage with Iran and Syria. Two years ago, Gates chaired a task force that called for reopening a dialogue with Iran. Baker has also signaled that his Iraq Study Group is likely to call for new efforts to enlist Iraq's neighbors to help create stability in Iraq.
But one of his biggest diplomatic challenges may be contending with pressure from the new Democratic-controlled Congress for a speedy drawdown in Iraq. The likely incoming chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services committees both called last week for "redeployments"meaning withdrawalof U.S. troops to begin before the end of this year. "The key is to begin a reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq," says Sen. Carl Levin, currently the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Make Iraqis decidedo they want a civil war, or do they want a new nation?"
A quick withdrawal from Iraq remains unlikely, and Rumsfeld's departure may do little to change the dynamic on the ground. "It's like a new coach coming in," says one Pentagon official. "The guy doesn't yell at you anymore, and the guy doesn't ask you to do the impossible anymore. But at the same time, your losing season continues to be your losing season."
From correspondents in London
November 13, 2006 03:37am
FOUR British troops were killed and three seriously wounded in an attack on a patrol boat in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, the Ministry of Defence in London said today.
Their boat was attacked on the Shatt al Arab river, a ministry statement said, but it gave no further details.
A military spokesman told the BBC that the patrol was caught in an explosion caused by an improvised bomb.
"The use of improvised explosive devices is very common in Iraq," said Captain Tane Dunlop, the Multi-National forces spokesman in south Iraq.
"It is slightly unusual in that this time it was targeting a boat."
Britain has some 7000 troops in southern Iraq, which has generally been calmer than the centre and north of the country.
More than 120 British armed forces personnel have died in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.
For better or worse (and I think it's better overall), our elected government make policy, not the military leadership.
The military have done a lot of good things in Iraq, but we must face facts - they haven't figured out a strategy to win. In modern America, a non-winning strategy is a losing one.
It still isn't too late but time is running out.