Anyone hoping that the new U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would somehow bring radical change to America’s policies in the war in Iraq must be sorely disappointed. President Bush changed the guard at the top of the chain when he allowed Donald Rumsfeld to step down, but he did not change his basic position that Iraq is a war that cannot be allowed to be lost and that the troops are not coming home anytime soon.
Congress can certainly scream all they want about the need to wind down the war, but the Congress is really a divided body and President Bush still holds the vital veto pen. More, however, the fact is that while Americans by and large want a new strategy in Iraq, very few of our citizens—certainly nowhere near a majority—believe that we should simply pack up, declare victory and leave.
On just his third day in office as the defense secretary, Bob Gates made an unannounced visit to Iraq to meet with America’s top generals, seeking their assessments and advice on the next course of action for the war. What is most important here is that he did not spend his first few days in office meeting with members of Congress. He went instead directly to the war torn region where he admitted openly that:
“We discussed the obvious things. We discussed the possibility of a surge (in troops) and the potential for what that might accomplish.”
So rather than apparently agreeing to the demands of some at home and to the general TV network spins that the resignation of Rumsfeld and the appointment of Gates meant a great tuning point in the war that would eventually lead to a U.S. withdrawal, perhaps sooner rather than later, Bob Gates is already sounding like a hawk. No doubt, he would deny that, saying he is just gathering information but the kind of information he is gathering and his first statements certainly do not indicate that he has retreat on his mind.
Good for him and good for the nation because it would be a terrible mistake for the United States to give in to the voices of defeat. We are in the Middle East for the long haul and we must be prepared to do battle with all kinds of forces who want to pursue their interest of an unstable Iraq.
While there indeed may be a wholesale shift in Iraqi war policy it would appear early on as if that shift would not be in lessening our efforts, but in re-doubling them. Witness three recent reports:
• First, the possible early retirement of Army Gen. John P. Abazaid, who has indicated now that he will follow his earlier plan and retire within the next few months.
• Second, the indications that America’s top commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, may not stay on the job much longer than the next couple of months. These indications come directly from the General himself.
• Third, the recent release of Pentagon budget estimates showing the need for another $100 billion or so to fight the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
The retirements of Casey and Abazaid could make it much easier for the Bush Administration to increase the size of the troop strength in Iraq, as both men have opposed any increases in the size of the U.S. military presence there. With the President able to appoint new military commanders, the speculation is that he could have people in place that would be favorable to adding at least 20,000 new forces to the region.
Add to that the talk now of more money, not less for the war against terrorism in general and one sees clearly the ingredients for more, not less in terms of the war effort.
And then there are the recent statements of President Bush: “Victory in Iraq is achievable. … It hasn’t happened nearly as quickly as I hoped it would have…”
Certainly, the President has appeared contrite and has admitted that things aren’t going all that well. But this seems to be more rolling with the domestic flow rather than being any heart-felt position. Like the now famous statement of former California Gov. Jerry Brown that one leans to the left, then leans to the right to hold the American voting public in place, President Bush certainly gives off all the signs that he will not cave in to the new Congress on matters involving Iraq and his new defense secretary seems to be already showing his loyalty to his boss and to the Administration’s steady policy of continuing the war in Iraq for as long as it takes to establish stability and at least a form of democracy within the region.
So much, then, for those who thought the November elections and the departure of Don Rumsfeld would bring the war to a close.