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Gates Will Change US Strategy

New US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Nov 13, 2006
It took six years, an out of control war in Iraq and a generational change in control in the U.S. Congress to do it, but President George W. Bush has finally switched course on his global strategy. The president's announcement Nov. 8 that he was finally replacing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with former CIA Director Robert Gates marks a seismic shift in the balance of power in Washington.

For the first time, the old Republican internationalists and cautious pragmatists who dominated the administration of President George Herbert Walker Bush, the current president's father, are taking real power in the government of the old president's son.

Ever since the current President Bush scraped into the presidency with less than a 600 vote plurality in the state of Florida in the 2000 cliffhanger of a presidential election, the U.S. media has been filled with reports that the president and his top team were either far more moderate and pragmatic than they in fact were, or that they had seen the errors of their ways and were dramatically shifting course.

None of it was true. In the president's first term of office, Secretary of State Colin Powell, the last figure to uphold the tradition of Republican internationalism inherited from Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and the first President Bush, was repeatedly over-ruled and outflanked by the president and his favored top team of Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice repeatedly sided with the Cheney-Rumsfeld juggernaut, isolating and outflanking Powell.

In the president's second term, Rice succeeded Powell and enjoyed the president's confidence far more than her predecessor did. But she never stood up to or defied Cheney and Rumsfeld on any key issue. European and Middle East Arab policymakers appreciated her relative moderation and willingness to listen to and respect their concerns. But around the world there was still a strong sense that Rice could not prevail upon the president to rein in Rumsfeld, who continued to run the U.S. Department of Defense as his private fiefdom.

The president remained loyal to his Rummy almost to the bitter end. As late as Nov. 1, Bush publicly vowed that he would keep Rumsfeld in the Pentagon through his second term, which would have made Rumsfeld by a wide margin the longest-serving secretary of defense in U.S. history.

However, within 24 hours of the president's Republican Party losing control of both houses of Congress to the opposition Democrats in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, Rumsfeld was gone. And the president named as his successor one of his father's most respected and experienced senior officials, former Director of Central Intelligence Robert Gates.

Gates remains to this day a confidante and close personal friend and professional colleague of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who has been co-chairing an Iraq Study Group with former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton to come up with new directions to deal with the out of control chaos and escalating sectarian civil war that Iraq became on Rumsfeld's watch.

Rumsfeld's fall removes the most powerful figure in the George W. Bush administration over the past six years. Rumsfeld ran the largest, most expansive and most manpower-extensive department of the U.S. government. He wielded more direct power than any other official in government and was not shy about doing it. With the possible exception of his fellow micro-manager, Robert McNamara, who plunged the U.S. Army deep into the quagmire of Vietnam 40 years ago and then could not get it out, Rumsfeld was easily the most hands-on, intrusive, confident, controversial and hard-charging secretary of defense, or SecDef, the U.S. armed forces have ever had.

But with Rumsfeld gone, Cheney, who unlike Rumsfeld or Rice does not directly run any of the major institutions of the federal government, has been turned overnight into a marginalized figure on the foreign policy deliberations of the administration.

As long as Rumsfeld was there, Cheney could count on the two of them teaming up to convince the president with their greater age and vastly greater experience over the decades in policymaking on national security issues. And he could rest assured that whatever the two of them wanted done, Rumsfeld would move quickly to implement in the Pentagon that he ran with an iron hand.

But now Rumsfeld has been replaced with Gates, who looks virtually certain to strengthen Rice's clear preference for the use of diplomacy over rapid resort to military force. Gates also shares Rice's aversion to unilateral policymaking without bringing significant numbers of America's traditional allies around the world on board.

Gates is also on the record as expressing his conviction that the United States needs to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process. That idea was anathema to both Rumsfeld and Cheney, but Rice has indicated she is more sympathetic to it.

Similarly, when traditionally pro-American Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt last year tried to interest Bush in phasing out U.S. military forces in Iraq and replacing them with military contingents from Arab League nations, the Cheney-Rumsfeld team made sure the idea was a dead duck before it could get off the ground. Gates is far more likely to welcome such initiatives from allies and at least make sure they get serious consideration, and to bring Rice along with him.

Remaining hard-line hawks in the administration, like U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, will now find that they are dangling on unexpected long and fragile branches. Cheney's standing with the president is much reduced, and Rumsfeld is no longer there to add his relentless determination and support.

The last stronghold remaining to the old hard-line hawks is the National Security Council, where Cheney's influence still runs strong. The NSC is nominally under the control of Stephen Hadley, but the real driving force on it is neo-conservative and super-hawk Elliot Abrams.

However, everywhere else, a new wind is blowing through the corridors of power in Washington.

earlier related report
Analysis: Abizaid doesn't need mroe troops By Pamela Hess - UPI Pentagon Correspondent WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- More U.S. troops will not improve the security situation in Iraq, the general in charge of U.S. Central Command said Wednesday.

Gen. John Abizaid told the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. Senate that more American troops would give the Iraqis an excuse not to confront the security situation themselves.

"It's easy for the Iraqis to rely upon us to do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future. They will win the insurgency, they will solve the sectarian violence problem, and they'll do it with our help," Abizaid said in a tense exchange with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., about troop levels.

Abizaid also said the U.S. Army and Marine Corps do not have enough troops to sustain a larger force in Iraq for very long.

"We can put in 20,000 more Americans tomorrow and achieve a temporary effect. But when you look at the overall American force pool that's available out there, the ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something that we have right now with the size of the Army and the Marine Corps," Abizaid said.

He said he was considering all options, however -- from adding troops to withdrawing completely, or repositioning them around or within Iraq. None has yet been decided on, and he asked that Congress not impose timetables or withdrawal requirements on him.

"At this stage in the campaign, we'll need flexibility to manage our force and to help manage the Iraqi force. Force caps and specific time tables limit that flexibility," he said.

"It's not that we're absolutely not considering force increases," Abizaid said. "We will. But it seems to me that the prudent course ahead is (to) keep the troop levels about where they are, increase the number of forces that are with Iraqi security forces to make them better, more confident, and, in conjunction with our colleagues on the diplomatic side, move towards governance policies that will seek reconciliation," he said.

Abizaid said the violence in Iraq was not as bad as it was in August and September but it remained threateningly high. He warned that the United States and the Iraqi government have only four to six months to quell sectarian violence and disband the militias before the situation slips irrevocably into chaos.

"I think (Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki) must move against the Sadr militia if Iraq is to become a free and sovereign and independent state," Abizais said, referring to the Mahdi Army or Jaysh al-Mahdi, believed to be the most powerful and threatening Shiite militia in Iraq.

Abizaid said the Iraqi government had to take steps quickly against the Mahdi Army, or risk that the group will morph into a destructive political and military power similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon, but on a far larger scale.

Abizaid said he had discussed the matter with Maliki and that he believed Maliki would take the steps necessary to disarm the militia and get its fighters jobs and enough political power to maintain their disarmament.

The current U.S. military estimate is that Iraqi security forces will be able to take lead across their country in 12 to 18 months, but Abizaid said efforts were underway to speed that transition. Only when Iraqis were leading the fight could the insurgency be brought under control, he said.

However, that meant that the United States had to invest more manpower and resources into the coalition military transition teams, speed the delivery of logistics and mobility enablers, and embrace an aggressive Iraqi-led effort to disarm illegal militias, Abizaid said.

It also meant the Shiite-controlled Maliki government had to fully support its security forces against the Shiite militias, he said.

"Will they be backed up in the event of a showdown? Do they have the capability to deal with them?" Abizaid said. "We need to make sure the (government forces) are the paramount force in the country."

"I have confidence that the Iraqi army is up to the job, providing the Iraqi government shows the confidence in its own army and gives support to its own army to take the lead the way that they should. That has yet to be demonstrated," he said.

Abizaid said he was considering adding more U.S. troops, but only if they were required to bolster the size of the military training teams embedded with Iraqi battalions. Each team now has between 10 and 15 members.

Abizaid said he remains optimistic Iraq can be stabilized. "We must stick with it until such time they show us that they can't do it," he said. "Those among us who fight bet on the Iraqis."

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., pointed out that much of the Iraq policy depends on hoping the Iraqi government will pull itself together politically, economically and militarily to tackle its own problems.

"Hope is not a method," she said.

Abizaid responded: "Despair is not a method either... They are not despairing. They believe they can move their country to stability and I believe it."

He said optimistic projections over the previous years about where Iraq would be by now -- which had not come true -- were not lies or obfuscation. "We haven't misled people. We have learned some hard lessons," he said.

Abizaid also said the maligned former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki was right: the United States should have sent several hundred thousand troops to keep order in Iraq after the invasion. Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz immediately derided that estimate, calling it "wildly off the mark."

"I think you can look back and say that more American troops would have been advisable in the early stages of May, June, July (2003)," Abizaid told the committee.

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Washington (AFP) Nov 15, 2006
Partition of Iraq along sectarian lines is "wholly unacceptable" to the United States, a senior State Department official said Wednesday, warning of the high cost in human suffering. "Partition in Iraq could only be achieved at an expense of human suffering and bloodshed and forced dislocation that would be both profound and wholly unacceptable, I believe, to the American people," said Ambassador David Satterfield, the State Department's coordinator of Iraq policy.

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