Gates: Political Climate Shouldn’t Affect Commander’s Iraq Assessment
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii, May 31, 2007 Army Gen. David H. Petraeus needs to focus on the situation in Iraq, not the political climate in Washington, when he files his report on conditions there, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters here today.
Gates, speaking at the U.S. Pacific Command headquarters, said he wants commanders in Iraq to focus on “the Baghdad clock and not the Washington clock” as they assess the situation in Iraq.
“We want them to focus on what’s going on in Iraq and give us their recommendations, their evaluations, based on what’s going on in Iraq,” he said. “Our military commanders should not have to worry about the Washington clock. That’s for us in Washington to worry about.”
The secretary’s comments came as the troop surge in Iraq focused on helping stabilize Baghdad approaches full strength and the same day Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, said September may be too soon to fully evaluate conditions in Iraq.
Petraeus’s report is expected in September.
Gates dismissed concerns that Odierno’s comments mean the timetable for Petraeus’s assessment has slipped. “I don’t think the goal post has changed at all,” he said.
The secretary noted that the supplemental war-spending bill signed by President Bush requires a report to Congress in July. “It’s not like we’re even waiting until September” to evaluate conditions, he said.
Petraeus and commanders on the ground “ought to be in a position to evaluate by the end of September if the surge is working,” he said.
While emphasizing that Petraeus’s report will be “clearly a very important piece” of the input the president will use to make a decision about troop strength in Iraq, other assessments will be considered as well, Gates said. This includes those by the U.S. embassy in Iraq.
“A lot of people are looking at the situation,” and their evaluations will “all be integrated together” as future directions are charted, he said.
Whatever decision is made, Gates said, it’s critical to look at Iraq through a long-term lens.
He pointed to “the Korea model” as an example of a protracted U.S. presence postured to provide stability over the long term. This “provides reassurance” to friends in the region that the United States won’t repeat its experience in Vietnam, where it “just left, lock, stock and barrel,” he said.