Defense Leaders: Iraq Debate Focuses Not on Whether to Win, But How
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 2007 Debate about operations in Iraq is completely appropriate, Defense Secretary Robert W. Gates said today, but he added that he believes those debates center not on whether there’s any option except to win, but on the best way to reach that objective.
“I don’t know anyone on (Capitol) Hill who thinks that failure … in Iraq … would have anything other than very serious and negative consequences for the United States and for the region,” Gates told reporters during a Pentagon roundtable briefing. He went on to define failure as “leaving Iraq in chaos.”
“So I think what people are trying to do is figure out what is the … best, constructive way forward to avoid that outcome in Iraq,” he said. “And I think that’s what the debate’s about.”
The debate also focuses on the best way to “incentivize the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future,” Gates said. “I think that’s a good debate to have.”
Iraq continues to struggle with a complex set of challenges, Gates acknowledged, but he said the term “civil war,” oversimplifies the situation. He called the “civil war” label “a bumper-sticker answer to what is going on in Iraq,” that really doesn’t fit the circumstances.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed with Gates’ assessment, noting that conditions in Iraq don’t meet “civil war” criteria. “The Iraqi army is loyal to the central government,” he said. “You do not have ‘Iraqi army of the north fighting Iraqi army of the south’ and other things like that.”
Gates reiterated the view he expressed during his Dec. 5 Senate confirmation hearing, when he cited four separate and distinct situations in Iraq.
“I believe there are essentially four wars going on in Iraq,” he said. Shiia-on-Shiia violence is occurring mostly in the south. Sectarian violence is centered on Baghdad, but occurs in other regions, too. An insurgency is under way, and al Qaeda is continuing its operations and attacking all those targets.
Both leaders said focusing on the best way ahead in Iraq is far more productive than trying to pin a label on the situation there.
“It’s a very complex issue, and putting a bumper sticker on it really doesn’t help solve the problem,” Pace said. “The question is, ‘Where are we? Where should we be? And how do we get from where we are to where we’re supposed to be? And that is what the new plan is all about.”
Gates told reporters he’s “comfortable” supporting President Bush’s orders to send additional troops to Iraq to support that plan, despite objections by some in Congress.
“The president is the commander in chief of the armed forces. The president has given the direction. We are carrying out his orders,” the secretary said.
“Sometimes a president has to take a long view, and sometimes that puts him in opposition to public opinion and to sentiment in Congress,” he said.
Gates offered a reminder that when President George H.W. Bush announced plans to remove Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait, only 15 percent of the American people supported the decision. “After it was successful, 90 percent approved of it,” he said.